Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

In this hand financial tools and in this hand a wastewater P3



Without the usual dodging and weaving, homespun homilies and flowery verbiage that usually chew up the first couple of hundred words of this column, let’s instead just pull on our hip waders, pinch our noses and jump right into this stinky business of how Whistler goes about expanding its wastewater treatment plant.

The choice comes down to this. Behind door number one is The Devil We Know. Behind door number two is The Devil We Don’t Know.

The Devil We Know is a traditional approach and the one Whistler’s followed in the past. Under that approach, the Muni, in conjunction with engineers who build such things, would design the parameters of the wastewater treatment plant expansion. Companies would bid on the contract, the winner would build the thing and the Muni would own, staff and operate it.

The Devil We Don’t Know approach is the one currently clogging the plumbing at muni hall. It is the Design, Build, Operate (DBO) approach where the facility’s design, construction and operation are held by a private sector, for-profit business. The Muni’s laid out the general parameters but in this case has paid four bidding companies $100,000 each to work up their bids… which we won’t see until sometime later this summer. The Muni will still own the resulting facility and will still hang on to the ultimate risk of its operation should untreated sewage start spilling into the Cheakamus.

There are a couple of things worth noting at this point. If you hear much of anything about this project you’ll certainly hear how much money delaying it is costing us. According to Councillor Ralph, every month we dither is costing us $100,000 in construction escalation costs.

That’s interesting. But the fact is, this albatross has been hanging around for a couple of years now. Over two years ago, the Muni was well on its way to going with the Devil We Know and getting on with it. Had the council of the day simply done that, the expansion would just about be completed by now and we wouldn’t be talking about it… still.

But about the time Dayton & Knight – the Devil We Know, consulting engineers who are responsible for the existing plant and the infrastructure supporting its expansion – were delivering their 2003 pre-design report, the agent for the Devil We Don’t Know butted in. The DWDK’s agent is Partnerships BC (PBC), Gordon "Rear-Entry" Campbell’s tool of privatization.

"Pssst," PBC whispered. "Have we got a deal for you." PBC wanted the Muni to consider going the DBO route. It’s a tenet of Rear-Entry’s conservative, ideological dogma that private is better than public, which, coincidentally explains his heavy-handed move on IPPs recently. (And I apologize for all the initials; it’s unavoidable when you’re dealing with things governmental.)

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