Timeline for billion-dollar North Shore wastewater treatment plant uncertain after project 'abandoned'

Construction on the new North Shore sewage treatment plant, already years behind its initial timeline for completion, has slowed so significantly that Metro Vancouver now considers the project “abandoned” by the contractor.

In a statement, Metro Vancouver told CTV News the project contractor, Acciona Wastewater Solutions LP, significantly reduced staff last Wednesday without notice.

Metro Vancouver, which represents nearly two dozens municipalities and oversees and operates regional wastewater treatment facilities, said the contractor had just 50 people remaining on staff following layoffs, down from 300 earlier in the year.

“We’re committed to completing the project, and are actively assessing our options for how to proceed and ensure it is delivered in the best interest of the region,” said Jerry Dobrovolny, Metro Vancouver’s commissioner and chief administrative officer.

On Monday it appeared some work was continuing at the site, with cranes and diggers operating and traffic on West 1st Street, which borders the site, slowed to alternating single lane.​

CTV News has reached out to Acciona Canada via email and phone for comment and will update this article when it receives a response.

With an initial completion date set for December 2020, the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant is already years behind schedule.

Its costs have ballooned from $700 million, some $400 million of which is being funded by the federal and provincial governments,​ to over $1 billion.

According to Metro Vancouver, the project contract was revised in 2019 to give Acciona an extra two-and-a-half years because of challenges that included difficult ground conditions, space requirements, and geotechnical complications.

The new setback now calls the revised 2023 completion date into question, with Metro Vancouver noting Acciona has “fallen behind meeting key milestones.”

“Metro Vancouver expects the contractor to continue to work in good faith to meet the terms of the contract including all health and safety requirements,” Dobrovolny said.

Acciona, based in Spain, describes itself as “a global provider of sustainable solutions for infrastructure and renewable energy projects” that “has successfully delivered large infrastructure projects across Canada since 2001.”

The company, as part of two different consortiums, is also heading up design and construction on Vancouver’s Broadway subway extension, as well as the Pattullo Bridge replacement.

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming told CTV News he was “concerned for Metro Vancouver” with respect to the water treatment plant, but not concerned when it came to the two transportation projects.

“They’re on budget and on time,” Fleming said. “Major things are happening and we’ve experienced no problems like (those in North Vancouver)."

The wastewater treatment plant, which would serve a quarter of a million North Shore residents, would replace the existing plant under the Lions Gate Bridge, and return the land on which that plant operates to the Squamish Nation.

A spokesperson for the District of West Vancouver deferred inquiries back to Metro Vancouver.

North Vancouver District Mayor Mike Little provided a statement that didn’t address the potential setback, and instead read: “Our role is limited to issuing permits as required.”

CTV News has also reached out to the Squamish Nation and the City of North Vancouver.