The final tally was 5-1 as a majority of Sackville councillors voted Monday night to award a contract worth $1,985,499.58 to Birch Hill Construction Ltd. of Moncton.
Birch Hill was the lowest of six bidders on a project to construct a 40,000 cubic metre storm water retention pond with pedestrian walkways around it in a downtown marshy area south of St. James Street and east of Lorne.
The contract also calls for construction of a smaller pond near the foot of Dufferin Street with ditches leading to pipes and culverts under the CN Rail line and Crescent Street to connect with a ditch owned by the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastucture (DTI) near the old railway station.
That ditch would carry storm water out past the Armtec plant to an old DTI aboiteau and then into the Tantramar River at low tide.
To see an engineer’s drawing of the new retention ponds, ditches, culverts and walking trails between Lorne and St. James Streets, click here.
Phinney says no
“I’m going to be frank and blunt,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney as he served notice he would vote against awarding the contract.
“I don’t have any faith in Crandall Engineering anymore,” Phinney said, referring to the Moncton-based consulting firm that designed the project.
“I’m sorry, they just seem to be winging it,” he added. “I really feel that it’s the wrong way to go. I think we need to stop it now.”
Crandall originally designed a project with two large retention ponds that would release storm water through a series of ditches and culverts in the industrial park to a new aboiteau at the river beside one of the town’s sewage lagoons.
But bids for the project came in at $5.9 million, double the $2.9 million all three levels of government had allocated for it forcing the engineering firm to scale the project back.
More ponds needed
Phinney stressed the fact that for flood control to work properly during especially heavy rainstorms, engineers say the town would need to contain at least 100,000 cubic metres of water.
The town does have tentative plans to spend about $350,000 constructing an additional 22,000 cubic metre retention pond in the old quarry above Salem Street.
But Phinney says that if the town buys the quarry from Mount Allison University, it would be taking on a huge potential liability if someone gets injured or killed there.
He also points out that even with a quarry retention pond, the town would be able to contain only 62,000 cubic metres, well short of what’s needed.
“How much more money are we going to have to spend to hopefully get up to a hundred thousand cubic metres?” Phinney asked. “This seems to be a never-ending pot of money somewhere, I don’t know where it’s coming from, but we’ll certainly be putting it on the backs of the taxpayers.”
Councillor Bill Evans spoke strongly in favour of approving the $1.9 million contract for the latest phase of the flood control project.
“I think it was two years ago at our priority session, we determined that flood mitigation was our number one priority,” Evans said.
He added that since then, the town had gone ahead with the successful $5.4 million first phase of the Lorne Street project before running into the higher-than-expected bids for the second phase.
“The proposal that we have is very impressive as far as I’m concerned,” Evans said. “We are doing the best that we can afford to do and we are also doing it in such a way that if we do get extra funding, we’ll be able to add to this project with minimal undoing.”
Evans argued that even though this latest project falls short of the 100,000 cubic metre goal, being able to contain about two-thirds of the water is a good thing.
“The alternative would be to say no to the money [from the others levels of government] and not do anything,” Evans said. “I’m almost speechless considering that alternative.”
Councillor Michael Tower agreed.
“As Councillor Evans said, if we didn’t do something, we’re going to be in a mess, [a] bigger mess if we did what Councillor Phinney wants us to do,” Tower said.
Later during the question period, Mayor Higham warned that climate modelling experts predict that the town would need to contain up to 200,000 cubic metres during a one-in-one-hundred year rainstorm which could come anytime.
“That amount of water will create a flow out of, at the bottom of Lorne Street, of 11 cubic metres a second,” the mayor said. “In order to get that out, you’d have to build a railway bridge for the CN tracks for it [the water] to flow under.”
Mayor Higham added that the town is legally obliged to work toward that one-in-one-hundred-year industry standard and that’s why it’s hoping to get more money from the provincial and federal governments to build a flood control system that would contain storm water until it could flow to a new aboiteau at the river near one of the sewage lagoons as originally planned.
To read earlier stories about the need for large, storm water retention ponds, click here.
To listen to my question about a future phase of the Lorne Street project and Mayor Higham’s answer, click on the media player below.