Question re: Dawson City waste-water facility - December 9, 2014

Mr. Silver:   The community of Dawson is currently under a water-boil advisory. We know that the source of the problem is that basically the $25 million water treatment facility does not work properly. Here is what is going on — here’s the problem.

When the new facility was built, it was simply connected to an old discharge pipe to the river. This week, this connection from the plant to the old infrastructure failed — not surprisingly, I’m told. It was only a matter of time, I was told. “Predictable” was the word that was used today when talking to my constituents.

Why was this issue using old infrastructure to hook up a new facility not addressed when the government spent $25 million on this facility?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      If the member had listened to my previous response to the Member for Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes, he would perhaps understand that the premise of his question was inaccurate. Our understanding is that the problem occurred, it is believed at this point — and again, this is based on what I’ve heard from officials and from the mayor of Dawson in our conversation this morning — they it was caused by a valve problem, although work is being done to determine what exactly occurred. That was their understanding at this point in time.

Regardless of the cause of the problem, it occurred in Dawson’s infrastructure in a Dawson force main area that is the responsibility of the municipality of Dawson and was it was not a part of the waste-water plant. Again, what I indicated to the mayor this morning is certainly that if there are issues with infrastructure needing to be replaced or upgraded, we’re happy to talk to them about that and happy to consider the possibility of supporting that through Building Canada funding. Of course, the municipality also has access to their gas tax funding to make those changes. We will talk to them about it and we’re prepared to consider supporting them and investing in those upgrades if need be.

Mr. Silver:   Of course, we have the minister once again blaming the city.

Mr. Speaker, this is exactly what happens —

Some Hon. Member:         (inaudible)

Point of order

Speaker:       Government House Leader, on a point of order.

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      I think the member should be asked to retract that. He accused me of blaming the City of Dawson, which is clearly not what I did. I believe he is contravening the Standing Orders. 

Speaker’s ruling

Speaker:       It’s a dispute between members. Leader of the Third Party, please finish your question.

Mr. Silver:   Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. This is what happens when you put new infrastructure over the top of old without considering the potential impacts. The new $25 million plant, which still does not work properly by the way, was simply connected to an old discharge pipe. A failure was predictable and indeed, inevitable. When the new plant was installed, this discharge portion that goes from the plant to the river was not replaced. There was some discussion at the beginning of the project about replacing this, but in the end, it was never done. This thin-walled force main pipe that goes from the plant to the river needs to be replaced before another break and before people’s drinking water is potentially at risk.

This is the canary in the coal mine, Mr. Speaker. Is the government going to work with the city to see that this pipe, which should have been replaced in the first place, is now replaced?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:   I think the Minister of Community Services already said that we were going to work with the City of Dawson on this issue.

The member opposite used the word “predictable”. He said predictable — old infrastructure predictable. There is a lot of old infrastructure in a lot of communities. In my community, when we build new infrastructure, of course, you can’t go and replace all old infrastructure. The cost would be incredible to replace every sewer line in Dawson City or every waterline in Haines Junction. It’s predictable — of course, it’s going to be predictable that you can have an issue somewhere on the system, but the costs are exorbitant. We’re working with the City of Dawson on this. You have to understand that. We’ve been there all the way and we’ll be there until the finish.

Mr. Silver:   I hope they’re there until the finish, because the finished part of the septic treatment facility was not done. Mr. Speaker, I certainly hope that they can see this money forward in the spring budget, when old pipes are not bursting and there is still an issue with this $25-million plant working properly anyway. The plant, once again, failed its most recent test in mid-November.

This has never happened in Dawson before or after this treatment facility, including the old screening plant. This plant has not been compliant with the city water licence for two years and three months now. The reason the plant was constructed was because the city was charged under the Fisheries Actfor failing these very tests. The previous failures resulted in a court action — court order — to build a solution.

How long does the government intend to allow this to continue before it takes action against the contractor?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      In fact, contrary to the member’s assertion, staff is working very hard on ensuring that we do everything within our power to ensure that the contractor, Corix, meets the terms of their contract. Of course, we, as with the City of Dawson, are not satisfied with the fact that the contractor has yet to demonstrate that the plant meets what they were contracted to do, but that work is still ongoing.

What I would note is that, contrary to the member’s assertions and the way he is framing this and characterizing it, we have been working very closely with the City of Dawson, with their officials and with mayor and council. We will continue to work closely with them. We very much appreciate the work that they have done in this area and appreciate the challenge they have. I want to thank staff of the City of Dawson as well as staff of Community Services and Highways and Public Works for the good work that they have done and are continuing to do in this area. We will remain committed to working with the City of Dawson to meet this challenge together and that includes considering where, if infrastructure upgrades are required in future, we may be able to assist them through resources, such as the new Building Canada fund.