Metro Vancouver water tunnel runs dry

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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When unstable rocks shifted and their immense weight buckled bolts and mesh, stabilization techniques failed to sufficiently protect workers, BBC says.
Unstable rocks shifted and their immense weight buckled bolts and mesh inside the Capilano-Seymour tunnel project

Last year, there was a bit of news coverage about a Metro Vancouver infrastructure project which ran into some serious trouble. It's a massive new water filtration plant and tunnel system that was initially estimated to cost Metro taxpayers a whopping $605 million dollars.

The project ran into big trouble when the massive 7.1 km underground twin tunnels they were constructing between two water reservoirs began to cave in. Before long, Metro Vancouver had terminated their contract with Bilfinger Berger and everyone headed off to court.

There was some real debate at the outset of this whole project as to whether Metro Vancouver even needed this type of infrastructure. Spending $600 million tax dollars to filter some of the purest water on Earth had more than a few folks scratching their heads. However, in the end, it received the political support it needed to move forward.

When news first broke that this multi-million project had come to a grinding halt, I half-jokingly told Vancouver City Councillor Tim Stevenson, Chair of the Metro Vancouver Water Committee, that his handling of this file could become a big election issue for him. After all, this was going to likely cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more than originally projected.

With the election now behind us I thought it might be interesting to get an update on the progress of one of Metro Vancouver's largest infrastructure projects.

I spoke to Bill Morrell at Metro Vancouver, and he indicates that the tunnel has yet to be completed. According to Morrell, work on the tunneling portion of the project halted last May. Since then, Metro Vancouver has done a bit of remedial work on the site, but has been very busy trying to find another contractor to complete the work.

The tunnel is currently half complete, with Belfinger having received $50 million for the work they completed so far. The original estimate to construct the tunnels was approximately $100 million dollars. Today, some folks are saying the final bill could be as high as twice that figure.

After putting out another call for proposal, Metro Vancouver has narrowed down the list of contractors to three separate consortia. "We are currently evaluating all the proposals and we plan to announce the successful bidder by March," says Morrell.

The tunnel portion of the project is now way behind schedule. Originally, it was set to open along with the new water filtration plant by May 2009. It is now estimated that the tunnel will not be completed before sometime in 2012.

Morell was unable to tell us whether the cost of the project will now exceed the original budget of $605 million dollars. New budget figures will be released once the new contractor is brought on board.

It should be noted that the filtration plant (sans the new tunnels) will be operational and will begin filtering the pristine water currently found in the Seymour water reservoir. For everyone else drinking out of the Capilano reservoir, well, you'll have to wait a little while longer before your water gets the Brita treatment.

In terms of the court case, a judge has now been appointed and a hearing date has been set for the Spring of 2011.

As for Stevenson and my projections that his handling of this file would become an election issue, well, I guess you could say he had the last laugh.

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