Saturday, April 29, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Infrastructure funding - the dark side

Cornell Van Ryk - When a senior level of government decides to open its coffers and fund infrastructure projects, the genie is clearly let out of the bottle. Success is measured in terms of how much money is spent and how quickly people are put to work. Quality and cost-effectiveness are sacrificed for expedience. Municipalities are forced to act quickly to access and spend grant money. This haste results in waste and poor decision making.

A classic example of how badly things can go off the rails is occurring right under our noses in the M.D. of Pincher Creek. Infrastructure grant money to the tune of $15million is being spent to supply water and sewer to some 80 people (projected to become 126 in 20 years) in the Hamlet of Beaver Mines. Many (1/3?) of the 80 residents have a water and septic system they are happy with and do not want the services at all. Many more do not yet have the cost information to form an opinion. Yes, you read it correctly, $15 million to supply services to potentially less than 50 people.

The project has been separated into three components… water supply, wastewater treatment, and the piping within the Hamlet to distribute the water and pipe away the wastewater. Each component is budgeted at close to $5 million. The water is to be supplied via pipeline from the Regional Water Treatment Plant at Cowley. Engineering and design has progressed a long way (significant money spent) and now it is decided to extend the pipeline to Castle Mountain. Rework is now in progress. Survey work and design is in progress regarding the Hamlet water and sewer network. All this is happening without any knowledge of the number and location of the “customers” for these services. The questionable strategy is to install water and sewer to all property within the Hamlet whether or not the property owner chooses to connect. It may be wiser to sign up “customers” before spending money on services no one is prepared to pay for.

It is the third component, wastewater treatment, which has really captured my interest. My interest stems from the fact that M.D. Council has decided to treat the Beaver Mines wastewater in a treatment lagoon at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Castle River. The location is approximately 4 kms. upstream from my property and 6.5 kms. from Beaver Mines. There are homes within spitting distance of the proposed location. No locals were consulted before the decision was taken. It may be the most expedient option as the M.D. owns the parcel of land but piping sewage for 3 days to a lagoon situated on a gravel bed at the confluence of two streams is likely not the best choice.

One needs to study the timeline to understand how quickly things progressed. Grant application for the wastewater system had to be made before year end 2016. Council engaged an engineering company at the end of Aug. 2016 to study the wastewater treatment alternatives and make a recommendation. The study was delivered to M.D. Administration on Nov. 17 in draft form and was not signed or stamped by a Professional Engineer. The study was reviewed by the M.D. Administration and the recommendation was accepted by Council within 4 days. A token public information session was held and grant application was made by the required deadline.

I have taken the time to study the details of the wastewater treatment study and found it to be of very poor quality. This is not unexpected given the short time frame. Significant risks to project success were not identified, resident concerns were not addressed, operation costs not discussed and viable alternatives not included. Council has been presented with the details, the most significant being that there are far better approved alternatives available than what is being proposed, a potential saving of some $3.5 million. Council was asked to revisit the decision but appears hesitant to do so while grant approval is pending. One can only hope that approval for funding is not given. Maybe then, we will take the time to do a proper study and look at all alternatives.

So here we are. The haste to spend money has resulted in rework, questionable strategies and poor decision making. We have proven our ability to spend money and to do it quickly, spending it wisely is a different matter. When you build an unnecessary sewage lagoon the locals and downstream water users are effected unnecessarily. When one realizes that the money being wasted is borrowed money and our grandkids will have to work many hours/year just to pay the bank interest, we are all effected.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Editor,
    This Letter is well written and quite expressive. I hope others write so community voices are heard. Councils are there for the people.

    D. Gray


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