The South Ottawa Collector disaster
...the 50-year 'big pipe', that lasted only three years

was quickly followed by the
Munster-Richmond pipeline fiasco
...that turned a $3.8-M project into a $30-M project
and put a whole community in harms way.


How many of the same 'experts' are still making
today's wastewater management decisions?


The Ottawa Citizen  -  Monday, September 21, 1998

A boondoggle extraordinaire


Having built a $38-million sewer pipe that doesnít work, regional government proposes to spend $17 million more to fix the problem. Itís time to get some outside expert advice.
A few years ago, regional officials were talking about the South Ottawa Collector as one of the engineering marvels of our time, a seven-kilometer sewer big enough to drive trucks through that was mined under under the Greenbelt using five mine shafts. A Montreal company was brought in to bore the tunnel with huge drills guided by laser beam, similar to the way the Chunnel was built between England and France.
Soon workers will be mining once again, this time for up to 2,000 tonnes of solidified waste that went into the sewer and stayed there. This sewer is massive, four times the size needed, and itís not a regular gravity-fed sewer. Instead, itís a siphon sewer that relies on pressure created by large volumes of sewage.
Some crucial decision-makers made a major mathematics mistake and did not ensure that there was any fall-back technology, such as pumps, in case the flow was insufficient.


The public-safety threat is significant because of methane gas build-up from the decaying waste. Simply flushing the pipe wonít work because such a huge slug of waste might damage our $345-million sewage treatment plant. To top it all off, a leak in the sewer was discovered last month. The sewer can only be used during heavy rainstorms. This is a boondoggle extraordinaire.
There is already talk at regional headquarters of lawsuits and that is understandable. It may not, however, be the wisest course of action, at least not until a thorough outside investigation is complete.
Elected councilors would be foolish to simply let the regional engineers and planners who oversaw this project, and their legal and accounting colleagues, take it from here.
If it turns out that regional staff, instead of outside engineering firms, made significant errors, what are the chances that regional staff are going to highlight that or go after it, even if itís dished up by an outside firm? With the greatest respect to hard-working


regional-government employees, it seems highly unlikely that they will dump dirt on themselves or decide that their past work was defective.
Councillors should instead establish an independent review of the entire project, with a lead consulting firm employing whatever lawyers, accountants and engineers they need to find exactly what happened and advise council about its options. Getting the facts, free of a biased information-gathering process, is essential before the region starts suing some of its biggest contractors. This task force could report directly to a steering committee of regional councilors, the people who must ultimately be publicly accountable for the misspending of public money.
This kind of process has worked well recently in the examination of the public transit system in Ottawa-Carleton. The consultantsí armís-length reporting and analysis on the bus company has been impressive in its breadth and detail, meaty enough to justify changing staff and fixing specific problems.
The sewer fiasco demands equal attention, though regional staff are bound to fight such a move. The credibility of regional government is at stake.