Cost rises to replace aging sewer main in Port Alberni

Port Alberni city staff say infrastructure project is ‘critical’

Port Alberni city council will be making some changes to this year’s financial plan after the cost to replace an aging sewer main has come in more than $1 million over budget.

The Argyle Street sewer main, which runs from Argyle Street at Harbour Quay underneath the Somass River to the city’s wastewater treatment facility, required repairs in summer 2021. Just a few months later, another break occurred and city staff determined that the 50-year-old forcemain was “irreparable,” said director of engineering and public works Rob Dickinson.

READ MORE: Aging city sewer main in uptown Port Alberni will cost $1.89M to fix

“It’s at the end of its useful life,” Dickinson told council during a meeting on June 13.

The main was shut off and the city has been using a bypass through the Wallace Street forcemain. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an increase of the amount of sewage overflowing into the Alberni Inlet during periods of high rainfall.

The city tendered replacement of the forcemain earlier this year, budgeting $1.89 towards the project, but only received one bid from Industra Construction Corp. The proposal price came in at $2.92 million, more than $1 million over the city’s budget.

Dickinson said the high price is mostly due to inflation. On top of this, most directional drillers across the province are busy with the Trans Mountain pipeline construction and other large projects, which leaves fewer drillers available for the sewer main replacement.

“We’re kind of stuck in a situation where there’s this urgent work we need done, and yet we are not going to see lower pricing,” said Dickinson.

City councillors were not happy to see the price tag, but Dickinson warned them that a delay will result in a “significant increase” of sewage being discharged into the Alberni Harbour. Another forcemain in the city, the Josephine Street sewer main, is also nearing the end of its life and is a “ticking time-bomb,” said Dickinson. If this main also breaks, the city will be down to three forcemains instead of five.

“For a project of this scope and this price range it is difficult to move forward when it’s significantly over the costs that we anticipated and with only one bid,” said Mayor Sharie Minions. “In this case, we have to move forward. This is a critical project.”

Council agreed to a combination of internal borrowing and reprioritizing of projects in order to fund the replacement.

Minions said the high rate of inflation makes the city’s asset management plan “even more critical” to understand which city projects need maintenance and replacement.

READ MORE: City of Port Alberni looks to software to help manage assets

The city has already started the process of separating its stormwater and wastewater systems, which will help with the amount of sewage overflow. This process is expected to take up to 50 years.

READ MORE: City of Port Alberni gets serious about sewage with $65M infrastructure commitment


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