Clear the air on sewer line
The noxious smell of downloading is in the Alberta air.
The latest group to get a whiff of the provincial government’s foul practice is the South Red Deer Regional Wastewater Commission.
Seven years ago, the commission and the province agreed to build a regional sewage line from Red Deer to Olds. The province promised to cover 90 per cent of the cost. Transportation officials reassured the commission any cost overruns would be covered under the 90/10 arrangement.
Originally estimated to cost $107 million in 2007, the bill is expected to come in around $135 million due to inflation, construction costs and other delays. Some of those delays were requested by the province during tough economic times back in 2009.
Times were so tough that Red Deer County Coun. Jim Lougheed expressed fears that provincial government cutbacks could cause communities to drop out of the project altogether.
Recently, the provincial government offered the commission a maximum of $10 million toward the completion of the regional sewage line.
That’s about $10 million less than what’s needed to finish the project. The offer would also reduce the province’s share of the total cost to about 80 per cent.
Dennis Cooper, chairman of the commission, has accused the province of reneging on its promise to fund 90 per cent. The City of Red Deer was also disappointed to learn that the province was reducing its commitment to the regional wastewater line, and rightly so.
The provincial government’s offer, if you can call it that, stinks, plain and simple.
The province is facing tough economic times, true. But that is no excuse to back out of its commitment to the 90/10 arrangement, especially when the province is responsible for some of those cost overruns.
This is a mess of the province’s own making. How the province deals with it will speak volumes about its credibility and trustworthiness.
It’s absurd to think that any municipality would embark on a project with the province in the future knowing the province could break its commitment on a whim.
The commission feared something like this might happen. Early last month, Dave Hoar, Red Deer County’s representative on the commission, warned that completion of an Olds-to-Red Deer regional sewage line might be delayed to the end of 2015, or even a number of years beyond that, due to the province’s tight finances.
The community caught in the middle of the latest funding tug-o-war between the commission and the province is the Town of Olds, the last community scheduled to be hooked up to the regional line.
The town had planned to improve its sewer lines as far back as 2004, but that project was put on hold because the province wanted a regional option.
Almost 10 years later, Olds is still waiting for the regional sewage line to reach it. Meanwhile, the age and capacity of the town’s existing sewage treatment lagoons, which were a concern in 2009, continue to deteriorate.
This time last year, Cooper was much more upbeat about the province’s willingness to live up to its end of the bargain. Although he had not received a firm funding commitment, a meeting with provincial ministers and local MLAs in Edmonton had gone well.
Now Cooper and the rest of the commission members are back to Square 1. In a special meeting last week, the commission voted to reject the $10-million offer and request a meeting with Transportation Minister Ric McIver to work out alternatives.
If that meeting takes place, the province should clear the air and live up to the funding promise it made seven years ago. The regional sewer line has dragged on long enough.
Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor.