Assistant city engineer Taylor Eshpeter says there are a number of unforeseen problems that have driven up the cost of fixing and upgrading the Marwell lift station. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

It happens: Whitehorse sewage repair costs balloon

Budgeted at $880,000 in 2016, Marwell lift station project could cost $3.5M

Repairs and upgrades to the Marwell lift station are going to be significantly more complicated — and expensive— than previously expected, city councillors heard July 17.

Several problems plague the project, Taylor Eshpeter, assistant city engineer, told council’s standing committee. A series of unforeseen complications and delays have made it necessary for city staff to ask council for another $1 million for the project.

The upgrades, which include valve replacement, surge protection assembly replacement and a permanent bypass system, were initially budgeted for $880,000 in May 2016. That same year, cost for the project increased to $2.5 million after it was found the pipes in the system were in poor condition. These additional costs would bring the total budget for the project to $3.5 million.

“I just want to see if I have this straight,” said Coun. Dan Boyd. “We started with a $880,000 project … and now we have a $3.5-million one?”

“I have a bad feeling about this project. There’s a lot of unknowns … you’re saying ‘brace yourself.’”

Eshpeter acklowedged that was true, but said the system is essential. Funds for the project could come from the federal gas tax, he said, or if those funds were not available, the city’s water and sewer reserve.

“There are lessons here to be learned,” Eshpeter said. “Going forward … we want to do more conditions testing, to be able to track and predict the length of life a lot better. That’s definitely a lesson learned.”

“I think the situation we’re in is like renovating a house,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. “You don’t know what kind of problems you have till you tear the walls down. I think that’s why we’re seeing these horrendous issues. I think we’re in a rock and a hard place, as they say.”

There have been delays to the construction of the bypass vault scheduled to be built as part of the project. That component was tendered separately so that it could be completed in the spring of 2017, when groundwater levels are lowest, Eshpeter said. However, when construction began, crews discovered that there was a coupling device directly where the vault was supposed to go. The pipe was too worn to allow the necessary valves to be installed, and so the vault had to be moved closer to the river.

“When we started construction, we exposed this big coupling device right where the vault was supposed to go,” Eshpeter explained. “There was no record of it being there — it’s from sometime in the 1970s.”

Reworking the original plan delayed construction, he said, and now work will have to be done while the groundwater is high, further complicating construction and raising costs for that portion of the project by $300,000.

The vault must be finished before winter, Eshpeter said, so retendering the project to try to get a better price on the altered work order is not practical. It would also mean paying out a “substantial sum” to cancel the current contract with Ketza Construction. In addition to approving new funding, staff asked council to approve contract changes with Ketza Construction.

Further funding is needed to replace the piping already slated for the project, Eshpeter said, because tender for that portion of the project came in at nearly $2.4 million from Wildstone Construction, $300,000 over the estimate. Wildstone was only the bidder on the tender.

“We do estimates based on the assumption of three competitive bids,” Eshpeter said, to explain why the bid had come in substantially over the estimate.

Retendering this portion of the project would further delay it, because it can’t be retendered in the same year.

“Considering the critical nature of this infrastructure and the poor condition of the piping, any delays to this work increases the risk of major pipe failure,” Eshpeter said, “which would cause major disruptions of services and could result in a direct discharge of raw sewage to the Yukon River.”

In addition to these changes, staff asked for another $400,000 for the budget so that a spray liner can be applied to the system’s wet well. The liner would increase the life of the well by 20 years, but can only be used if the concrete in the wet well is in good enough condition, Eshpeter said. The condition of the wet well is currently unknown.

The wet well is essentially a large holding tank for sewage. It has never been cleaned or inspected since it was built in the 1970s, and the concrete is currently untreated, Eshpeter said.

The Marwell lift system is a critical portion of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure. It handles approximately 80 per cent of the waste water in the city, shuffling it for treatment at the Livingstone Trail environmental control facility.

The $1 million budget amendment, along with other motions to approve changes to the Ketza and Wildstone contracts, will get first readings at the July 24 regular council meeting.

Contact Lori Garrison at

infrastructuresewagesewage treatmentWhitehorse city council