Kvetching continues over Dawson sewage saga

Dawson City's long-lived sewage saga continues to produce no end of controversy, as contractors and the Liberal Opposition allege the territory's tendering process has been tainted by political interference.

Dawson City’s long-lived sewage saga continues to produce no end of controversy, as contractors and the Liberal Opposition allege the territory’s tendering process has been tainted by political interference.

To fix the problem, Liberals want the Yukon Party to … politically interfere.

That won’t happen, says Premier Dennis Fentie.

The construction contract has yet to be awarded to BC-based Corix Water Systems. But acceptance of Corix’s $25-million bid appears to be a foregone conclusion, following the rejection of the bid made by the only competitor, Yukon-based Ketza Construction Corp.

Ketza is appealing the decision. But even a successful appeal won’t overturn the decision. At most, it would produce recommendations for the territory to improve its contracting process.

That hasn’t stopped Ketza president Peter Densmore from raising hell. Or the Liberals from parroting Densmore’s allegations in the legislature.

“The government’s mishandling of this issue is giving us a black eye with businesses who want to work here and the result could lead to the federal government stepping in to sort it out,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell on Tuesday.

Nonsense, replied Fentie, who bragged about his government’s business-friendly reputation and threw around some economic statistics.

“I’ll let Yukoners judge who has the black eye.”

Ketza’s bid has numerous shortcomings and “barely meets requirements,” according to the six-person evaluation team, which comprises a Yukon government engineer and assistant deputy minister, Dawson City’s public works boss and fire chief, and Outside experts in procurement and technical matters.

They’re wrong, Densmore insists in a 15-page response to his evaluation.

He claims he was punished for promising to stay on schedule. The team worried his schedule was “overly-optimistic” and would not be met.

He also claims he lost points for not including a tree-protection plan, although he said there are no trees in the area.

Not true, said Catherine Harwood. She’s the government engineer leading the team.

“There are some trees on the site. Some people may not think they’re important trees, but it’s a miniscule part of the whole evaluation.

“Some of those examples have been pulled out of context and blown out of proportion,” said Harwood.

“It’s like when you do a test at school. You have to hit all the stuff the teacher is looking for. You may not agree, you may think it’s stupid, but when you’re doing your assignment you need to be thorough.”

Others grumble the bid was likely sabotaged because the favoured company had a partnership with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.

But First Nation co-operation was simply lumped in under the category of “Yukon content,” said Harwood. And Yukon content only counted for a small fraction of the total evaluation score.

“It’s still possible to not qualify and have lots of Yukon content. And you still need to be technically sound to gather your Yukon-content points,” she said.

“There was never any distinguishing done between First Nation, non-First Nation.”

The Liberals have made hay over the $8.5-million discrepancy between bids. But cost was not a consideration when Ketza’s bid was rejected for technical reasons, said Harwood.

Densmore has also attacked his competitor’s scheme to build a mechanical treatment plant using a “deep-shaft” design, in which sewage is pumped into an underground reservoir and blasted with oxygen to encourage microbes to eat away at the waste. Such technology has a poor track record, he said. He proposes a different mechanical design.

But a similar deep-shaft system has worked well in Homer, Alaska, said Harwood.

The technology has its naysayers, including the town of Virden, Manitoba. But Virden’s plant is 30 years old and the technology has greatly improved since then, she said.

Much has also been made about how it took two weeks for the evaluation team to respond to Densmore’s kvetching. But it’s hardly news that government moves slowly at best.

Dawson City must have secondary sewage treatment in place by 2012, or else face hefty fines, the courts have ordered.

The order dates back six years, to March of 2003, when the city was found to have violated federal law by dumping one billion litres of raw sewage into the Yukon River annually.

The sewage is roughly screened for solids, but to describe this as sewage treatment, states the judgment, “overstates the situation considerably.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.