Comox Strathcona Waste Management (CSWM) is having to re-tender its organics compost facility project after receiving no final proposals.
The site, which will be located at the Campbell River Waste Management Centre, will provide organics composting for the region. CSWM manages waste management programs for the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts.
“This project is the highest priority for Comox Strathcona Waste Management,” general manager of engineering services Marc Rutten told the CSWM board during their Sept. 10 meeting.
According to staff, uncertainty in the construction sector has meant question marks for the procurement process. CSWM had received five bids during the request for qualifications stage and whittled this down to three bidders invited to submit formal proposals. However, none submitted by the July 23 closing date. One had staffing issues, while the other two had “affordability concerns.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created more uncertainty in the construction business, and CSWM now expects the project cost to be higher, going from the previous $14.7 million up to $15.5 million. Tipping fees for organics would likely run $125 to $154 a ton, while the cost for the average household works out to about $8.15 per month. Staff said they hope to keep the figure at or below the cost for regular solid waste.
In the end, with no bids, CSWM has changed the procurement process from design-build to design-bid-build. One ramification is the project will go to tender separately for design and construction work, meaning local construction firms should be able to bid for work more easily.
One issue with bidders has been the technology CSWM wants to use, as staff say it is more cost-effective. A consultant’s report included in the board’s agenda package shows the membrane system CSWM prefers comes in at almost $1 million less for capital costs than another system, agitated bed technology. Estimates for operating and maintenance costs are also less. CSWM still has to answer what the potential operating costs could be, and it will likely look for a private company to take on operations.
At the recent meeting, the board raised a number of questions around issues such as social procurement factors, tipping fees, odour control and the participation rates for a current pilot program for food and yard waste in Cumberland and Comox.
Some members of the CSWM board were worried about potential skyrocketing costs for the organics facility. Brenda Leigh, who represents the unincorporated area south of Campbell River on the SRD board, has long opposed the project over extra transportation for materials that are mostly water, and she does not think the project will ever happen. She said the fact the operations part of the project had not been included in tendering at this point is a concern.
“The operating costs are a big question mark,” Leigh said.
Ron Kerr, one of the Campbell River directors with CSWM, reiterated her concerns about potential operating costs. Even having to go back to the tendering process at this point is troubling, he suggested, in light of the fact none of the shortlisted applicants submitted a final bid.
“When you have all three walking away, there’s obviously some issues,” he said. “This project’s costs are just ballooning.”
The CSWM board passed a motion from a staff recommendation to amend solid waste capital infrastructure expenses in 2020 by $830,601 – from $400,000 to $1,230,601 – with the additional funds to come from capital works reserves for the project. Leigh, along with her SRD electoral area colleagues Gerald Whalley and Jim Abram, voted against the motion.
The new procurement process will add up to six months to the process to get the facility built and operational. CSWM staff expect it will open in the fall of 2022, though another area of uncertainty surrounds the process of lining up all the permits.