The cost to upgrade Port Dover’s water treatment plant has more than doubled, much to Norfolk County council’s chagrin. -J.P. Antonacci/The Hamilton SpectatorJ.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The cost to upgrade Port Dover’s water treatment plant keeps rising — and Norfolk County taxpayers have no choice but to foot the bill.

Councillors on Wednesday voted to approve an additional $5 million for the work, which will push the total cost to $21.3 million.

“This project went from being less than $10 million to now being $21 million,” Coun. Alan Duthie said to county staff.

“When does it end? Give me some reassurance that this is it.”

In 2020, staff said it would cost $8.4 million to add badly needed water treatment capacity to support Dover’s existing residents and planned growth.

More galling to councillors, the work was budgeted at $16 million as recently as last October. Project manager Mariana Balaban said the cost shot up again due to rising construction prices, as well as the need for expensive specialized work to upgrade the plant’s electrical system and remove lead paint.

The current phase of the multi-year project is expected to wrap up by December, at which point the plant will have a maximum capacity of 7,600 cubic metres per day — enough water to allow for all planned development in Dover to proceed.

To pay for the latest cost increase, planned work is being scaled down at Simcoe’s water treatment plant by $5 million. But banking on future savings is not ideal, staff cautioned councillors, since the cost of the Simcoe project may rise as well.

Any increase to water rates as a result of this added spending will not be seen until 2025 — a small comfort for residents whose bills spiked 12 per cent this year, with another 14 per cent hike planned for 2025 to pay for the county’s aging water system.

“There are lots of lessons learned that we took away from this,” Balaban said after Duthie asked what staff will do differently “to not end up in this situation again.”

Balaban said staff are reviewing all cost estimates and budgets for capital projects to assess their realism — with contingencies in place to fund “risks and unknowns” — before going to tender.

Mayor Amy Martin thanked staff for their “transparency” but said continual cost overruns “is not the plan when council endorses a project.”

“This has to stop,” the mayor said.

Upgrading Port Dover’s water treatment plant is a costly stopgap measure until the county can secure funding for an inter-urban water supply system that will see water piped throughout Norfolk from the giant treatment plant in Nanticoke.

As the new system comes online, Norfolk’s five existing plants would be decommissioned.

The county has to raise $450 million to pay for the inter-urban system, which Martin says will not be possible without help from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 26, 2024 at 12:04

This item reprinted with permission from   The Spectator   Hamilton, Ontario
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