FALL RIVER: The Fall River water project is on hold.
Councillor Steve Streatch is pointing to a tight deadline from the federal government—they have a March 2018 date—to have the project completed by and “substantially higher” than expected tender costs from companies who bid on the project for the delay. The tenders that were received came in at almost $3 million more than what the engineering consultants that Halifax Water had do the design work estimated.
The first reading of the water extension boundary passed unanimously recently at regional council. Usually, that means the next step is to move into a public hearing. Not now.
“I’m advising that the Fall River water project has been postponed, for the short term,” he said. “The tenders came in and they’re all substantially higher than what the engineers told us they should be, which bothers me.
“Obviously, council put faith in the water commission. They in turn hired an engineering firm to give us a pretty accurate estimate as to what this project should cost when we went for public tender. That process was followed.”
Streatch said a lot of hard questions will have to be asked of Halifax Water regarding the engineering firm’s large gap between their estimates and the tender costs.
He said he has always been troubled by the timeline of the project.
“I think the timeline, in this particular case, is working against us, and it has had upward pressure on the bids that came in,” said Streatch on May 18. “They were all consistent and all came in about $3 million higher than what we originally anticipated.”
Streatch said in discussions with staff they have asked to see if they can get an extension on the project deadline. He is meeting with Liberal MP Darrell Samson next week.
“The first thing we need to do is go back to the federal government and ask for an extension, ask for a reprieve if you will as to the finish date of March 2018,” he said. “Any time you get into a situation like this where deadlines are in place and they are very short, you run the risk of falling prey to the old saying ‘haste makes waste.’
“I think in this case we need to take pause, and have a sober second look at exactly what we have here in front of us. We want to make sure, regardless of where the funding is coming from, that the projects we embark upon is not only the best project for the community, but is the best value for the taxpayers. Right now, what’s in front of me leaves me very uncomfortable.”
He said most of the companies who tendered have already had their summer work lined up, so that had an adverse affect on prices along with the timeline for the large project.
“We had great concern from some residents that we should be doing more of extending into Fall River Village. I’m open to that,” he said. “There really is nothing driving an urgent timeline other than the federal government funding timeline.”
Streatch was asked what happens if the feds and Samson don’t grant the extension.
“That will make it very difficult,” he said. “Preliminary indications, at least at the staff level, are that other projects are finding themselves in the same situation.”
He said if the extension is not granted, and no further funding consideration comes from other levels of government, their hand will be forced.
“Either one of two things will need to happen,” said Streatch. “The scope of work will have to change to accommodate the money we have in place or the municipality will have to come up with another funding stream.”
He is hoping residents can be patient as the process goes forward.
“It’s not cancelled, it’s postponed and on hold,” he said. “It is in an effort to bring forward a better deal for the taxpayers.”