City's Wastewater Treatment Plant Projected to Cost $37.9 Million

City's Wastewater Treatment Plant Projected to Cost $37.9 Million

Construction on the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades (the Project) recently passed the 70 per cent completion mark with the overall projected project cost coming in at $37.9 million. This projected cost reflects a $6.3 million increase from the original 2018 estimate.

In 2018, the City began upgrading its wastewater treatment plant to meet new Federal and Provincial treatment standards. At that time, the Project, one of the largest infrastructure projects in Port Alberni’s recent history, was estimated to cost approximately $31.6 million.  

As bids on project components were received through competitive bidding processes (Calls for Tender or Requests for Proposals) costs were noted to be higher than originally estimated. As tenders were awarded and expenditures on project components approved, the overall total project cost estimate rose. 

“It is common with construction projects, particularly ones of this scale, that estimated costs vary from actual costs. In this instance, there are several factors to account for,” said Wilf Taekema, Director of Engineering & Public Works. “The market fluctuates day to day, year to year and with the long construction timeline, tender prices (actual costs) came in higher than the original estimates which were based on the market at that time; additional consultation work was required to gain regulatory approvals and permitting; construction engineering of project components was ongoing, including redesign of one major component in 2019; the construction timeline was extended to accommodate certain activities and environmental considerations; unforeseen circumstances have given rise to change orders; and the estimated cost to decommission the City’s old lagoon has increased.”

The City is committed to fiscal responsibility. In 2012 the City received $11.2 million in grant funding from the Federal Gas Tax Agreement General Strategic Priorities Fund (GSPF) and a further $6.89 million from the Federal Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF) in 2017.  Together these grants provided $18.10 million to support the essential upgrades – that works out to 48 per cent of the projected total cost. The City was also innovative in the reuse of industrial infrastructure through the purchase of the Catalyst lagoons. This land acquisition allowed for the City to proceed with the upgrades at a lower cost compared to building a new treatment plant.

“Upgrading the Wastewater Treatment Plant is an important and necessary step in the City’s continuing efforts to improve the quality of life in Port Alberni while at the same time lessening our impacts on the surrounding environment. When considered together with the City’s ongoing storm and wastewater separation projects, the newly upgraded Wastewater Treatment Plant will have a significant positive effect on the health of the Alberni Harbour, Somass Estuary and neighbouring waterways,” said Tim Pley, City of Port Alberni CAO.


The City of Port Alberni treats wastewater from approximately 18,000 people in the Alberni Valley. To provide this service, the City uses a centralized wastewater treatment plant and lagoon that has been in place in the Somass Estuary since the 1950s. Knowing that the plant would not adequately support the community’s future needs, the City began exploring options to upgrade the plant.

In 2003 the City, in consultation with technical and community stakeholders, identified that the most cost-effective way to meet the City’s wastewater treatment needs was to purchase and re-purpose the Catalyst paper mill’s effluent lagoons that had become surplus to the needs of Catalyst. The City began to expend funds on this project in 2012 when the paper mill lagoons were purchased from Catalyst. The City then proceeded with design and engineering work to have the plant and neighbouring lagoons upgraded to meet demand and come into alignment with Provincial and Federal standards for effluent treatment and discharge.

The first contract was awarded in September 2018. The Project broke ground in October 2019, and work is slated for completion in summer 2020.

Key aspects of the Project include constructing a new aeration system, adding the screening of solids and ultraviolet light disinfection to the treatment process, constructing a new outfall 800 metres into the Alberni Harbour and improving effluent dispersal with the addition of five sub-surface diffusers.

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