Whistler’s new composting facility will cost twice as much as originally anticipated, according to a report tabled at this week’s council meeting.
The budget is now $12.5 million, up from the $6 million first reported in August.
While council approved a $1.5 million expenditure for parts of the composting project at Monday’s meeting, there was no debate on the sizable budget increase.
When asked later in the week about the increase, acting mayor Ralph Forsyth said: “That’s news to me.”
He begged off answering questions about the budget increase until he spoke to staff at municipal hall.
Fifteen minutes later Forsyth said: “I found out that… I should have asked the tough questions earlier when I read the budget considerations in the (staff report).”
When asked if staff should have highlighted in detail the 100 per cent increase in costs, Forsyth diverted the blame to the council table.
“I don’t want to speak for council but I will take responsibility for not asking the tough questions and it is council’s responsibility to make sure that those questions get asked,” he said. “It’s not up to the staff to anticipate the questions that we might ask.”
He expressed concern not only for the doubling in costs of the composting facility but also for all capital project costs in Whistler.
“We have grave concerns about any capital projects at the moment,” said Forsyth. “We’re fearful of cost escalations on every capital project that we have.”
The staff report contains no explanation for the price increase.
The resort municipality purchased the composting facility from Carney’s Waste Systems in early August. At that time the purchase and the construction of the new facility at the Callaghan Waste Transfer Station was expected to cost $6 million.
On Wednesday James Hallisey, manager of environmental projects, explained in part why the budget has doubled. Upon a more detailed review of the system, several issues came to light that could be improved upon from the existing system. In addition, the cost of steel and concrete is on the rise.
“That’s added some costs to the capital,” Hallisey said Wednesday.
He also said that spending money upfront on certain aspects of the project will result in long-term savings in the operating costs.
Hallisey admits, however, that a 100 per cent increase was a surprise to him.
“To go from an estimate of $6 million to $12 million is a pretty big step,” he said.
Part of the reason the budget increase was not completely evident at first glance in the staff report is because it is now included as part of the multi-million dollar upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant. All of the biosolids from the plant will be diverted into the composting system.
The global budget for that project is now $51.6 million, up from $45 million in July, due in large part to the composting costs.
Mayor Ken Melamed also raised the issue at Monday’s meeting that the municipality appears to be paying for other agencies’ costs, like the Ministry of Highways and B.C. Hydro.
The mayor asked if that was normal.
“I don’t know that it’s normal,” said Hallisey. “We’re still arguing about that.”
The most recent cost is from B.C. Hydro, who is insisting a new electrical supply system be installed to the plant.
“It’s going to be difficult and expensive,” said Hallisey, who could not confirm exactly how much that system would cost.
Though the global wastewater treatment plant budget has increased, the cost for the general upgrades has remained the same.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden was keen to ensure the community knew that those added costs were not due to the construction of the plant upgrades themselves — a contentious issue because council, after much debate, last year opted not to pursue a public/private partnership for the construction and long-term operation of the plant. Many argued that a P3 could save in construction costs.
Staff confirmed again Monday night that the general construction of the plant is $28.6 million, a fixed price contract.