At least three city councillors voiced their concerns at Wednesday night’s budget deliberations over the funding set aside for cast iron water main replacement.
A presentation from the Director of Engineering Bevan Harlton showed the five-year capital budget for cast iron replacement went from $38 million in 2022 to $29 million in 2023.
Harlton said in his presentation that the engineering department needed to shift its focus because of both external and internal factors.
Externally, the Crescent View Lift Station is in need of replacement as well as feeder mains on 16th Avenue and Coteau Street. Internally, his team has three years of cast iron replacement record information that needs to be completed.
The initial mandate of the cast iron replacement program was to replace about 84 kilometres of cast iron pipes over 20 years. After replacing 3.5 kilometres last year, Harlton said completing the program at an average of four kilometres per year is not realistic after hearing complaints of resident fatigue from all the construction.
“Completely anecdotally, that four kilometres per year, which would put us at a 20-year cycle is just past what I think a city of this size can manage. So, that 3.5 kilometres done last year was without any significant downtown impact and there's still a lot of pipes left in the ground in the downtown,” Harlton said.
Coun Crystal Froese agreed that there was fatigue when it came to the construction this past summer.
“All summer long, even when our street was completed and they had moved over further, you can constantly hear the backing up of machinery, which didn't bother me so much. But I know a neighbour two blocks away, it was driving her nuts because she worked nights,” she said.
Coun. Dawn Luhning said it went beyond people who were simply tired of all the construction.
“The issue, I believe we addressed when I made a few enquiries about how long these projects are going on and the residents are noticing that nobody is working in the middle of the day at 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning and there's nobody working,” she said.
With $4.6 million earmarked for cast iron in 2023, Harlton said they should be able to complete two kilometres of pipes, which would put them in line with 2019, which was also the last year that the city construction program included both cast iron and feeder mains.
While Coun. Heather Eby was appreciative that the feeder main and Crescent View Lift Station projects need to move ahead, she was concerned because it was a fight to get the cast iron project going and she didn’t want to see it get lost in the mix.
“Some people who are no longer here, it cost them their positions around this table to stand up for that program, so I'm mindful of all of the work that needs to be done and the critical part of all the other pieces of infrastructure, but I'm very cautious about robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.
A report will be coming to city council in the coming weeks during budget deliberations regarding cast iron replacement and feeder line replacement.