Yukon’s community services minister says his department is trying the last thing on its list of possible fixes for the much maligned Dawson City wastewater treatment facility before the situation could end up in court.
This summer, a cloth disc filter system will be installed at the plant in an effort to finally get the quality of water in line with the requirements of its water license, according to a statement from the department.
In an interview, minister John Streicker said the solution is the “last one that we’re working on.”
If it doesn’t work the government will consider other options, including taking Corix Water Systems, the company that built the facility, to court.
“I don’t want to say that it’s our last shot, as in there’s no conversation left to be had, but it’s the only one that we’re working on.”
Streicker said the department will try this solution and “see where we land.”
The wastewater plant has not been consistently meeting its water license requirements since it was completed in 2012. It struggles in the summer months with, for example, higher than acceptable amounts of total suspended solids in the water and fecal coliform, said Tyler Williams, a water information specialist with Environment Yukon.
According to the department’s statement, “the tertiary cloth disc filters will provide an additional level of treatment to the existing process at the plant.”
Both Corix and the government have “agreed that tertiary filtration is the most appropriate solution to resolve issues with effluent quality” at the plant, the statement says.
When it was first built, the facility was supposed to eventually be run by the City of Dawson. But after years of trying to get it to work, and operating costs that government officials say were higher than expected, the Yukon government assumed control of operation and maintenance in February 2017.
At the same time the government filed a lawsuit against Corix. By filing in court the government also preserved its right to make claims under the warranty which otherwise would have expired.
The lawsuit was put on hold while both the government and Corix kept trying to fix things.
According to the department, “if, contrary to expectations, the tertiary filtration system does not deliver outputs that meet the water license standards, then the litigation between the Government of Yukon and Corix that is now ‘on hold’ by agreement of the parties will resume.”
Streicker said that if the government had sought a legal solution without trying this latest potential fix first, it’s likely the court would have sent them away.
He acknowledged that public money has gone into trying to fix the plant.
“Part of what happens is you work with the proponent and you negotiate how much responsibility is held by us and by them.”
In 2017 the Yukon government and Corix “resolved a number of deficiencies at the plant, including electrical work and concrete repair work,” according to the department’s statement. All that work was completed at Corix’s cost.
Along with the new filter, the system is also being “upsized” to deal with Dawson’s growing population, the department says.
Corix is paying for two-thirds of the estimated filtration project costs, “based on sizing for the design flow of the original contract between Corix and the Yukon government,” according to the statement. The Yukon government is paying the remaining third of the costs.
“In total, the Yukon government has agreed to pay up to $500,000 for the design, construction and commissioning of the new filtration system.”
A judge could, in theory, order Corix to repay the Yukon government if the matter does end up in court, Streicker said.
For its part, Corix has spoken out against the idea of a lawsuit. In a statement last year when the Yukon government filed its documents, the company said the plant “was designed and built to the specifications issued by the Government of Yukon, and successfully operates according to contract specifications.”
Streicker said he’s feeling frustrated.
“I want to make sure that they have a functioning facility,” he said. “I care about all of the money that we’ve needed to invest into this as Yukoners, (and) I believe that Yukoners deserve value for that investment.”
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