Details murky for Dawson sewer plant operations

The estimated costs to operate Dawson City's new sewage plant continue to climb, causing worries among city officials that the municipality may be stuck with bills it is unable to pay.

The estimated costs to operate Dawson City’s new sewage plant continue to climb, causing worries among city officials that the municipality may be stuck with bills it is unable to pay.

In late July, sewage began to flow into the new plant. Its construction was spurred by a court order nearly a decade ago that found the city was breaking federal law by dumping raw sewage into the Yukon River.

Over the years, the court has reluctantly afforded the territorial government a number of extensions on the deadline to build a new facility, which was originally set for December 2004. Changes in the plant’s design and unseasonable weather were among the reasons for delays.

Now that the plant is built, no one seems to know how much it will cost the town to keep it running. Neither Corix Water Systems, the company that built the plant, or Yukon’s Department of Public Works could provide the original estimates before the News went to press.

But the estimates continue to grow and are far higher the original figures given to the town, said Wayne Potoroka, current town councillor and mayor-hopeful.

“Costs of adding infrastructure, especially that size, will definitely have an impact on our budgets for sure,” said Jeff Renaud with Dawson City. “There’s some indication in some of the files that the operating costs that were projected at the time, back when they decided to go with this type of plant, that those projections are significantly lower than what’s being projected now, which is certainly causing some concern for the city.”

The original plan was for Dawson City to take over the plant completely, once it was built.

But with costs in mind, some sharing with the territory may now be in order.

“We’re not going to leave them on their own to flounder with this thing,” said Doris Wurfbaum with Highways and Public Works. “Government has always been prepared to help them out, if it’s needed. But first we have to get a realistic picture of what’s going on, what those costs are, what rate payers are currently paying, etc.”

Dawson’s water and sewer rates currently hover over $1,000 per year. That’s “crazy,” said Potoroka, who reckons they are among the highest in the country. Any increase iwill be both unacceptable and difficult for most residents to endure, he said.

But whether that rate will have to go up for the new plant won’t be figured out until at least a year from now.

As part of the contract, Corix will operate the plant for its first 12 months. During that time, the company will track costs, train local staff and work out any kinks that come with a new system.

Then the territory will sit down with the town to decide what to do next, said Wurfbaum.

In the meantime, Han Construction workers are still waiting to get paid for the work they did to build the new plant.

A dispute between Han and Corix – to the tune of around $2 million – led to Corix terminating the contract before the plant was complete.

The two parties are in talks to resolve the dispute, said Jack Touhey of Corix. Beyond that, he wouldn’t comment further.

The territory also couldn’t womment on the dispute, except to say that it is still holding money from Corix, as required in the contract, until all disputes are resolved, said Wurfbaum.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at