Frustrations swirled through Tofino last week as the town’s municipal staff learned that the cost to build a proposed wastewater treatment facility had been vastly underestimated.
Sewage has long been a catalyst of concern in Tofino where it is pumped, largely untreated, into the ocean. Back in 2015, the federal government gave the district a deadline of 2020 to begin treating its sewage. Several other Vancouver Island communities were given the same deadline, including Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich, Langford, Colwood, Esquimalt and View Royal, though those communities are all working on a shared $775 million Capital Regional District facility that’s expected to be completed in December.
Tofino had budgeted $55 million to build its wastewater facility and, last year, received roughly $40 million in grants from the provincial and federal governments to build the project, leaving $14 million for local taxpayers to cover.
That $55 million estimate was proven to be inaccurate last week though as the district announced on Friday that the bids they had received to construct the facility were all significantly higher than the district’s budget.
“Following the recent submission of competitive bids for the construction of the new wastewater treatment plant mandated by the federal government, Tofino is taking time to assess options due to tender amounts exceeding the project budget by an average of $29 million,” the announcement read.
“The District will be working with the federal and provincial governments to identify options that will not impose any additional costs on Tofino taxpayers.”
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Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said the higher than expected bids dealt a frustrating blow to council and district staff because of the efforts and funds that had gone into calculating what was believed to be an accurate cost estimate.
“This situation is frustrating for all of us as we went through an extensive cost review involving assessments by design consultants, value engineers, and a class “A” cost estimate prepared by a quantity surveyor in the spring of 2019 to help establish the project budget at $53 million,” Osborne said. “We recognize how important this project is for our community and the surrounding area; however, we will not proceed if the additional funding cannot be found through other sources as our residents and business owners cannot take on the additional costs.”
Through the announcement, the district said it is unclear about why it missed the mark by such a wide margin, though economic uncertainty around COVID-19 may have played a role.
District staff are now combing through the proposed project in search of costs that could be cut and are also reviewing potential funding sources to put the project back on track without increasing the local tax burden
The proposed facility is expected to serve Tofino as well as neighbouring Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation communities and the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
“When completed, the wastewater treatment plant will be an important step in improving water quality in the Clayoquot Sound, protecting public health and conserving the marine environment,” the announcement reads.