Question re: Dawson City waste-water facility - November 18, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I’m going to return to a topic of great concern to my constituents. The Government of Yukon announced it was transferring the ownership of the Dawson waste-water treatment facility to Dawson City earlier this year. The transfer was supposed to happen mid-March. This didn’t happen. The samples taken at the time failed to pass the water quality test. The contractor who built the facility was supposed to operate it for one year and then turn it over to the city. Yukoners are well-aware that the $25-million plant has not operated properly since it has opened.

Can the minister confirm the hand-off to the City of Dawson has not in fact occurred because the plant still isn’t working properly?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      As I indicated previously in Question Period, in fact, the Department of Community Services and the Department of Highways and Public Works are working closely with the City of Dawson. We are committed to continuing to do our utmost to holding Corix, the contractor, to the terms of  their contract and ensuring that they do what they committed to in that contract, which is deliver a plant that meets the terms of the contract and meets the needs of the City of Dawson.

As I have indicated previously, we have committed to continuing to work with Dawson in that regard to ensure that we are fully supporting and assisting them in doing what is necessary to have that plant operating as it is required to do by the contract.

Mr. Silver:   With all due respect, we heard the same thing from the minister last week. His quote was, “…holding Corix to the terms of the contract and are doing everything within our power to ensure that the plant performs as it is supposed to.” What’s the long-term plan for this facility? It hasn’t operated since it opened in October 2012. The City of Dawson is well within its rights of refusing to take over the responsibility for this facility and the government is currently left indefinitely holding the bag. Can the minister explain why the plant isn’t working? Is it a mechanical problem, for example, or a design flaw or some anticipated reason like higher-than-anticipated mineralization of the water?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:           I thank the member opposite for the question and I thank my fellow colleague for his first answer.

The Dawson waste-water treatment plant is essential to a clean environment and a healthy sustainable future for the community of Dawson. We know how we got to this situation. They pleaded guilty. We’re here and helpful and we’re partnering with the City of Dawson to address the core infrastructure priority. Highways and Public Works and Community Services now has been communicating and consulting with the Dawson residents on this project for about six years. We’ve had a lot of meetings.

Corix, the design/builder of the plan, has hired several Yukon and Dawson subcontractors and three local Dawson residents as part of this operation, which has provided a bit of an economic driver for the City of Dawson. The Dawson waste-water treatment plant is more than a robust compact and environmentally appropriate system. It’s an innovative milestone project that takes work — this technology — to find it a better way to meet the critical infrastructure requirements that will meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

Corix has been operating the plant for more than two years. We’re working with the City of Dawson — my fellow colleague and I — through this process while we work with Corix and the City of Dawson to make this plant operational.

Mr. Silver:   This innovative project, as he is explaining, doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked since it began. We’ve heard the briefing notes before but it’s clear that the white elephant is that the new waste-water treatment facility is going to cost Yukon taxpayers for years to come.

Last week, the minister seemed to indicate that it was the contractor’s fault — and we heard it again today — that the system is not working. Okay. Interestingly, the Yukon Party government of the day went out of its way to disqualify a Yukon company so that Corix was the winning bidder. Two years after the plant opened, the government is now blaming its hand-picked contractor for a facility that does not work and which may never actually work.

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

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      First of all, I would point out that the Leader of the Liberal Party should know that he made a misstatement of fact in suggesting that the government hand-picked a contractor and he really deserves the employees of the Department of Highways and Public Works and Community Services an apology for his assertion.

I would point out again, we are fully committed to holding Corix to the terms of their contract, and I would again remind the member that a mechanical treatment plant was not the Government of Yukon’s preference or the City of Dawon’s preference. As a result of the decision by the citizens of Dawson — their request, as stated through a plebiscite, that objected to located a conventional sewage lagoon as a treatment option, we then had to go to plan B to respect the wishes of the citizens of Dawson. Mechanical treatment plants are more complex. They have more issues in commissioning than a sewage lagoon, but we are respecting what the citizens of Dawson asked us and the town of the City of Dawson to do.

We’re working closely with the City of Dawson and are doing our utmost to fully hold Corix to the terms of their contract and ensure that they deliver on what they committed to do.