Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

A P3 crapshoot at the sewage plant

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I’m having a lot of trouble understanding our council’s decision to move forward with privatizing the design, construction and operation of Whistler’s waste water plant expansion. I’m thinking of calling Ralph’s sister in Manitoba to explain it to me. She’s apparently either an authority or at least offers sage counsel on complex subjects.

Perhaps she could explain the whole alchemical process of turning people poo into gold. For much of human history, alchemists experimented, hoped and prayed for a foolproof methodology to convert base metals – lead for the most part – into gold. It was the cold fusion holy grail of the age.

Modern day alchemists have gone them one better, having evidently discovered a way of turning shit into gold. I’m baffled… but intrigued.

Of course, I’m skeptical as well. Any good magic act brings out the curious skeptic in me. I’m wondering where this poo profit comes from.

Let’s deconstruct this magic act. Undoubtedly there is some profit to be made in designing a sewage treatment plant. But just how much? I mean, Whistler isn’t the first place on Earth to build a sewage treatment plant or even an expansion of an existing plant. While it’s not like you can go down to Costco and buy a poo processor, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to hire a good civil engineering architectural firm to design one. Can’t be a windfall profit in the design stage, just a normal, doing business type of profit. The kind of profit rolled into an all-in-one design, build, operate contract.

Any good project construction company ought to make a reasonable profit building a treatment facility. If they didn’t, they’d soon go out of business. But again, it’s not like this is the very first one ever built. While I’m painfully aware of how under-supplied and over-demanded construction trades are these days with the Great Olympic™ Sinkhole sucking up everyone who can weld metal or wield a hammer, I’m willing to bet there are still firms out there who’d be happy to bid on a treatment plant expansion that provided them a reasonable profit for their labours.

So, let’s see… design, check… build, check… operate? Ah, operate. That must be where the real gold is. But where, exactly, is the profit in processing poop?

I realize there’s some money to be made in selling the processed solids – if you’re eating while you’re reading you might want to come back to this later – as high-test fertilizer. Many years ago, I hauled a couple of truckloads of, I believe the euphemism was, biosolids, up to where I’m living and spread them around the bare back yard. New grass seed sprouted almost immediately, so rich was this mixture. And after three days or so, the back of the house stopped smelling like a porta-potty on a hot day. But the muni stopped letting people reclaim their poop for free and I’m not certain exactly what happened to that revenue-generating proposition.

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