Question re: Dawson City waste-water facility – April 3, 2013

Mr. Silver: I have a question for the Minister of Highways and Public Works on the Dawson City waste-water treatment plant. The new facility is now operating and due to be turned over to the City of Dawson in August of this year. The city has expressed concerns about this rapidly approaching hand-off for numerous reasons. Frustration with the project reached new levels recently when the plant malfunctioned and sewage spilt into the street.

There have been repeated requests for more training and a longer period of time to ensure that the town has a good handle on what operation and maintenance costs will be before the facility is handed over.

Will the facility be turned over to the municipality as planned in August of this year whether the municipality wants it or not?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko: Since 2003, when Dawson City pleaded guilty to dumping inadequately treated sewage into the Yukon River, the Yukon government has been working diligently to find a solution — working with them. Through a lot of public consultation, community meetings and finally a referendum, Dawson City residents opted for this type of sewage treatment plant rather than the traditional above-ground sewage lagoon. Through the Building Canada program — thank you to the Building Canada program from our federal counterparts — Dawson City was able to start construction in 2009 with the goal of compliance. Although Yukon government is providing project management and capital financing for the facility, ownership and responsibility for its ongoing operation will be transferred to the City of Dawson after one year of operation on August 22, 2013. The Yukon government and the City of Dawson have a memorandum of understanding in place outlining agreed-upon roles and responsibilities of each government.

Mr. Silver: There needs to be a little bit of room — some wiggle room here.

Officials in the City of Dawson have made it very clear that they are not prepared to accept the facility the way it is working currently. With a deadline of August 2013, the town is rightly concerned about taking on the management of a project with so many unknowns. The Government of Yukon needs to commit to managing this project for an indefinite period of time — certainly for a full year with the plant working as promised. In the short time the facility has been operating, there have been several changes to the original design. It’s not a new plant, but the process has actually changed internally. Will the government delay the hand-off until this facility works properly?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for the question.

The Dawson City waste-water treatment plant demonstrated the Government of Yukon’s commitment to work collaboratively with other governments and organizations to ensure Yukon’s communities have solid infrastructure in place and the capacity to operate.

This project is the only project in the Yukon that the Yukon government has committed to operating for a year before transferring the responsibilities of operation over to the local government. We are working with the City of Dawson to develop a transition and training plan to ensure they have employees adequately trained by the time the transfer is to occur. The Government of Yukon is pleased to have partnered with the City of Dawson to address this core infrastructure priority, and the Dawson City waste-water treatment plant is essential to a healthy and sustainable future for that community.

Mr. Silver: I do thank the minister for his answers. One of the items that the City of Dawson was waiting for its reports on was the operation and maintenance of the plant. It’s my understanding that it’s going to cost more to operate than expected and insurance costs are also going to be higher as well. The minister committed to providing that information to the City of Dawson; however, as of two weeks ago, they had yet to receive it. It’s hard to put together a budget when one of the main numbers is missing. The City of Dawson needs certainty about the costs of this facility which, at this time, remain unknown. Transferring this facility with so much uncertainty is not something that a small municipality is interested in taking on and who can blame them?

Has the minister transferred this financial information to the City of Dawson as of yet, and if not, why not?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko: My fellow colleague, the Minister of Community Services and I, as well as our deputy ministers and officials have met with the City of Dawson on several occasions over the past few weeks. Discussions on the O&M costs are being shared with Dawson City right now and we continue to provide details as they become available.

This treatment process has lower O&M costs when compared to the other types of mechanical treatment facilities. The Yukon government has invested significant additional capital in the development of the facility in order to minimize the longer term O&M costs for the City of Dawson. This includes the following: installing a second set of all process equipment, a heat recovery pump, extra spare pumps, R-48 walls and an R- 60 roof; training in the first year; the biomass-fuelled boiler district heating plant using locally produced wood chips manufactured from waste wood, as opposed to an expensive fuel oil to heat the Dawson waste-water treatment plant and also the Dawson City water supply.

This results in a substantial annual O&M cost savings for the City of Dawson. Like I said many times before, the Yukon government is committed to meeting with the City of Dawson again in August, prior to the transfer of the facility. Both Yukon government and the City of Dawson are pleased that we are keeping the lines of communication open and are working collaboratively to find solutions on our way forward.