Having built a
$38-million sewer pipe that doesnít
work, regional government
proposes to spend $17
million more to fix the problem.
Itís time to get some outside expert advice.
A few years ago, regional officials were talking about the
South Ottawa Collector as one of the engineering marvels of
our time, a seven-kilometer sewer big enough to drive trucks
through that was mined under under the Greenbelt using five
mine shafts. A Montreal company was brought in to bore the
tunnel with huge drills guided by laser beam, similar to the
way the Chunnel was built between England and France.
Soon workers will be mining once again, this time for up to
2,000 tonnes of solidified waste that went into the sewer
and stayed there. This sewer is massive, four times the size
needed, and itís not a regular gravity-fed sewer. Instead,
itís a siphon sewer that relies on pressure created by large
volumes of sewage.
Some crucial decision-makers made a major mathematics
mistake and did not ensure that there was any fall-back
technology, such as pumps, in case the flow was
threat is significant because of methane gas build-up from
the decaying waste. Simply flushing the pipe wonít work
because such a huge slug of waste might damage our
$345-million sewage treatment plant. To top it all off, a
leak in the sewer was discovered last month. The sewer can
only be used during heavy rainstorms. This is a boondoggle
There is already talk at regional headquarters of lawsuits
and that is understandable. It may not, however, be the
wisest course of action, at least not until a thorough
outside investigation is complete.
Elected councilors would be foolish to simply let the
regional engineers and planners who oversaw this project,
and their legal and accounting colleagues, take it from
it turns out that regional staff, instead of outside
engineering firms, made significant errors, what are the
chances that regional staff are going to highlight that
or go after it, even if itís dished up by an outside
firm? With the greatest respect to hard-working
regional-government employees, it seems highly unlikely that
they will dump dirt on themselves or decide that
their past work was defective.
Councillors should instead establish an independent review
of the entire project, with a lead consulting firm employing
whatever lawyers, accountants and engineers they need to
find exactly what happened and advise council about its
options. Getting the facts, free of a biased
information-gathering process, is essential before the
region starts suing some of its biggest contractors. This
task force could report directly to a steering committee of
regional councilors, the people who must ultimately be
publicly accountable for the misspending of public money.
This kind of process has worked well recently in the
examination of the public transit system in Ottawa-Carleton.
The consultantsí armís-length reporting and analysis on the
bus company has been impressive in its breadth and detail,
meaty enough to justify changing staff and fixing specific
The sewer fiasco
demands equal attention, though regional staff are bound to
fight such a move. The credibility of regional government is