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Take Cover! Boondoggle Alert


Take cover!
It's a boondoggle alert!

The cost of upgrading the West End Water Pollution Control Centre, WEWPCC as it's affectionately known in city hall circles, is officially out of control.

The smell of death is so thick over this project that Finance Committee Chairman Mike O'Shaughnessy wants the city auditor to start dissecting the corpse.

Just last week the city's water department revealed the WEWPCC, as it's affectionately known in city hall circles, will cost taxpayers another $12 million.

And that, as the newspapers told us, is on top of $35 million already budgetted for the upgrade project.

In broad strokes, the cost just went up by a third.

That's the good news.

Because back in 2004 when the project was announced, the estimated cost was $26 million.

That means it's now 80 percent over budget. With no end in sight.

And almost two years behind schedule. With no end in sight.
And a hair's breadth away from being in breach of its environmental licence.
No wonder the alarm went off.

The WEWPCC project is a runaway--- with no brakes. And when it hits your wallet there's no measure to the carnage it's going to cause.

How did this happen?

In 2004, the city wanted to reassure its long-suffering taxpayers that there was no way this could happen. They put in place everything they could think of to head off problems:

* " To manage the project successfully over its life, a strong dedicated Project Management Team has been assembled with the necessary skills and experience, including a Project Director dedicated to this Project.
* An external panel of top North American experts will be utilized to provide peer review following the Conceptual and Functional Design phases of the Project.
* The City of Winnipeg Project Director will review the financial status of the Nutrient Removal and Disinfection Project with the Departmental Controller on a quarterly basis.
* A risk management process will be implemented that will identify potential risks and mitigative strategies."

And now that the West End Pollution Control project has run off the cliff and is headed for a very, very hard landing, all we get a shrugs from the very people assigned to watch how tax dollars are wasted, uh, spent.

"I'm disappointed that the numbers continue to rise, but I'm not surprised." Charleswood Councillor Bill Clement told the Winnipeg Free Press.

Gee Bill, it's nice to see you're not surprised. We wouldn't want to disturb your sleep. What's 42 million dollars anyway.

It's just that as the people who have to cough up those millions, we are surprised. Very, very surprised. Starting with why the cost is skyrocketting.

"Upgrades to the West End Water Pollution Control Centre are expected to cost the city $47 million instead of $35 million, partly because of "design errors, incomplete design and design clarification", according to a water and waste department report." (Winnipeg Free Press, June 30, 2007).

City of Winnipeg documents show that in September of 2004, Earth Tech (Canada) was authorized to proceed with the design of the WEWPCC Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) upgrade project... In December of 2004, Earth Tech (formerly Reid Crowther - ed) submitted their Draft Conceptual Design Report.

The crack panel of "top North American experts" who reviewed the conceptual design must have given it the okay. The "ace" project manager signed off. So when did the city discover "design errors?"

Who discovered them? And at what stage of construction?
Are the engineers being sued? Do they even have insurance for this kind of thing?
Was the design work done in-house? Or contracted out? Does an engineer in India or Costa Rica now have some unpleasant questions to answer?
Have the same engineers done other work for the city? Is that work under review now?

And how can city officials be so blase about 80 percent cost overruns?
Since when did this become business as usual?

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