Halifax set to sign $116m sewage contract

By Jeffrey Simpson / City Hall Reporter

Halifax is on the brink of signing a deal worth as much as $116 million to have a local firm build part of its sewage treatment project.

Council on Tuesday approved an agreement with Dexter Construction Co. Ltd. to design and build a collection system for three sewage treatment facilities.

The decision authorizes councillors on the municipality's harbour advisory committee to sign off on the contract, because council is now starting a month-long summer break.

Mayor Peter Kelly told reporters the deal's price tag - which doesn't include taxes or inflation - is about $18 million less than the same segment of the $264-million contract the municipality had previously signed with Ondeo Halifax Regional Environmental Partnership.

The municipality walked away from that contract last month after the two sides reached an impasse over who would be responsible for the water quality of the treated sewage.

Dexter had been a member of the private-sector consortium headed by Franco-Belgian giant Suez and its Canadian subsidiary, United Water.

The local construction company was to have played the same role under the previous contract.

"We fine-tuned it, improved the pricing and are moving forward," Mr. Kelly said. "Staff have been negotiating very intensely."

Work on the system of pipes around the sewage treatment facility planned for the corner of Cornwallis and Barrington streets in downtown Halifax will begin in upcoming weeks, followed by systems for the other two facilities, planned for Dartmouth and Herring Cove.

This phase of the project is expected to take about three years to finish.

Mr. Kelly said it's unclear when work on the first sewage treatment facility will start - the municipality had hoped to get that underway last winter.

"We hopefully will come back after the break and have the information from staff as to how they want to move forward," Mr. Kelly said.

Coun. Dawn Sloane (Halifax Downtown) said she's still against building the treatment facility in Halifax at its planned location.

"We have to move forward but that doesn't mean the plant can't be moved," Ms. Sloane said.

She said she's happier with the way things are now shaping up for the project.

"I'd rather do it this way than with Suez - that's for sure," she said. "It's more public."

Council also hasn't decided what level of treatment to go with.

The municipality's previous deal with the consortium had called for sewage to be treated in three facilities with an advanced primary system, which separates solids from liquids in the waste before releasing it into the ocean.

Municipal officials are now looking at either enhancing that system or opting for a higher level called secondary treatment.

They've learned that the amount of waste flushed into the sewer system from food manufacturers such as breweries or dairies might be higher than previously known.

Primary treatment doesn't break down that type of waste, which could lead to the municipality's sewage treatment facilities failing to meet government standards for water cleanliness.

The city dumps an average of 180 million litres of raw sewage into Halifax Harbour every day.