Question re: Dawson City waste-water facility - April 14, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Highways and Public Works about the Dawson waste-water treatment project. Earlier this year, officials from the minister’s department put the operating cost to run this new facility at $340,000. People I’ve spoken to in Dawson think that this number might be a little bit unrealistic and don’t believe that the amount will even cover the fuel bill, let alone operations of the facility. The municipality of Dawson should not be left on the hook if the costs to operate this building are higher than expected.

If the bill does come in higher than $340,000, will the Government of Yukon cover this extra cost?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:           In addition to selecting a treatment process that has lower O&M costs compared with other types of mechanical treatment facilities, the Yukon government invested significant additional capital in the development of the facility in order to minimize the longer O&M costs. For example, we installed a second set of proposed equipment, redundant stuff — a heat-recovery pump, extra spare pumps, R-48 walls, R-60 roof — and training in the first year. A good success story with this was the biomass fuel boiler district heating plant to provide the cost-effective heat. The biomass fuel boiler district heating plant uses locally produced wood chips manufactured from waste wood, as opposed to expensive fuel oil, to heat the Dawson waste-water treatment plant, and also the City of Dawson water supply, which is a bonus. This use of local, renewable fuel resources results in sustainable annual O&M costs and savings.

The building of the plant was under my portfolio, and now I know Community Services is working hand in hand with the City of Dawson in the takeover of that.

Mr. Silver:   I appreciate the answer, but we still don’t know if the town is going to be on the hook for more O&M costs. I am concerned that Dawson will be left on that hook if anything is over the $340,000. I’m looking for assurances that they won’t have to fend for themselves. The new facility had to pass a number of tests before it could be turned over to the City of Dawson. According to information from the city council meeting held on April 4, results of samples taken on March 25 by Environment Yukon failed.

The report goes on to say that clearly the plant is not complying with our water licences even in March — March, Mr. Speaker, being a very low-flow month.

Can the minister confirm that the most recent tests were the worst ever recorded, and is this government still considering handing over this facility to the city as is?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      First of all, I would note, that when it comes to the handover of responsibility to the Town of the City of Dawson, we will do so pursuant to the letter signed by me and Mayor Potoroka that spells out a number of matters related to our shared understanding. That also does include that if the costs of operating the facility turn out to be significantly higher than anticipated, we have a commitment to work with the City of Dawson around that financial sustainability provision. We have an obligation, as set out in this letter, to support them during a transition period for two years and we will continue to, through the handover of responsibility for this plant, fulfill our agreed-to role in helping them and in helping them manage this new facility.

Mr. Silver:   I do appreciate the commitment to any extra operation and maintenance. I still didn’t get an answer to the question of the test results. I would like to go back to the biomass, though. Sometime after building the new waste-water treatment facility, the Government of Yukon decided to add a $4.8-million district heat system to the project. It would provide supplementary heat for the treatment facility, and possibly nearby government buildings as well.

It is my understanding that there have been several problems with the district heating system that was chosen and, in fact, it has not worked properly since it was installed and it is not working now, at all.

Can the minister confirm that this is, in fact, the case?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      The latest information that I have is that the biomass facility is working fine. Perhaps there may be a more recent challenge that the member is referencing. But, in fact, what the member has referenced to earlier days of the plant — the biomass district heating facility was put in place to reduce the cost required for fuel oil to heat the waste-water plant. That was aimed at both reducing the overall cost and heating it in a more environmentally responsible manner.

There were some issues, as there are often with new facilities, in commissioning it that required some specific technical changes, but my understanding is that those matters were addressed. If something more recent has happened, staff, I trust, will take the appropriate action and will resolve whatever issues are there. But, in fact, it has been working well.

I would also note to the member — again I emphasize that the letter signed by me and Mayor Potoroka does provide a shared understanding for the responsibilities of both the Yukon government and the Town of Dawson City and there is an obligation on both parties to take appropriate action in those areas.

The member’s specific characterization to the recent test as, in his view, the worst ever — my understanding is that is not correct. He is wrong again.