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Metro Vancouver examining officials’ devices amid North Shore sewage plant legal battle

Spokesperson says accessing documents and records a routine part of litigation
Construction work taking place at the troubled North Vancouver sewage plant

Top Metro Vancouver officials turned over their devices before Christmas as part of the ongoing North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant legal battle.

“No phones have been ‘seized’ — the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District (GVSDD) is undertaking document/records collection, including from cellphones, which is a routine part of litigation,” said Metro Vancouver spokesperson Jennifer Saltman.

“This document/record collection process is routine. There has not been a court order.”

Two years ago, the division of Metro Vancouver terminated the contract with Acciona Wastewater Solutions LP.

The Spanish infrastructure giant was hired in 2017 to design, build and finance the secondary sewage treatment plant on the old BC Rail station site at the foot of Pemberton Avenue in North Vancouver.

The B.C. and federal governments granted $405 million to the project and Metro Vancouver contracted Acciona for $525 million. The price tag was announced at $700 million in 2018, with completion scheduled by late 2020.

But District of North Vancouver slapped a stop work order on the site for three months in 2019 during Acciona’s feud with subcontractor Tetra Tech.

COVID-19 caused another three-month delay in 2020.

The plant was upgraded to tertiary treatment, more design and construction delays ensued, and cost estimates ballooned. In March 2021, Metro Vancouver pegged the budget at $1.058 billion with a 2024 completion target.

By September of 2021, Metro Vancouver learned that Acciona had laid off most of its project staff, prompting the GVSDD board to declare Acciona in default the next month.

Acciona claimed more than $250 million when it sued for breach of the project agreement in March 2022. Metro Vancouver countersued for $500 million in damages, costs and expenses.

A case-planning conference is scheduled for Feb. 26 at the Vancouver Law Courts.

Last September, Glacier Media reported that the project cost could climb as high as $4 billion. At the end of that month, Metro Vancouver chairman George Harvie struck a task force to review options to complete the project, with a mid-2024 target to report findings and recommendations.

The task force went behind closed doors when it met Nov. 22 and Dec. 15 for the purpose of “the receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose,” according to agendas.

Its next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15.

The project’s January and February 2024 newsletter said consultant AECOM’s plant design is 90 percent complete.

“Design reviews in 2022 identified that the plant’s design was not as advanced as had been reported by the previous contractor at the time of their termination, and moving the design forward has been a key focus of the project team’s work over the past year.”

Construction manager PCL is permitted to conduct on-site work between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The pump station under the Lions Gate Bridge is complete and conveyance pipe system partially complete. The existing Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant will be decommissioned when the new one is finished.

Last May, B.C. Supreme Court granted Acciona’s application to question Metro Vancouver chief administrative officer Jerry Dobrovolny under oath about his December 2022 and March 2023 affidavits.

GVSDD court filings in late 2022 said that Acciona learned one of its employees, Anika Calder, took photographs of a confidential report to the board recommending it terminate Acciona and that she shared the images with at least four colleagues.

Calder had been visiting her father, Coquitlam city manager Peter Steblin, who used GVSDD chairman and Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart’s log-in credentials to access the report. Steblin retired in early 2023.

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