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Fired contractor for North Shore WWTP sues Metro Vancouver over ‘impossible’ project

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Spain-based contractor Acciona — fired from the North Shore Wastewater Treatment project in January — is now suing Metro Vancouver for nearly $300 million in the form of damages and withheld compensation.

Acciona Wastewater Solutions LP alleges in the lawsuit that Metro Vancouver requested more than 1,000 major changes and alterations to the North Shore wastewater project, resulting in “numerous conflicts, inconsistencies, and impossibilities in the requirements” of the agreement for the project that is already more than two years behind schedule and some $300 million over budget.

“In fact, it was not possible to design and construct the North Shore WWTP on the Project Site in accordance with Acciona’s obligations under the PA [project agreement] without numerous and significant changes […], including changes to [Metro Vancouver’s] highly prescriptive, conflicting, and error-ridden Design and Construction Specifications […],” Acciona alleges in its notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

None of Acciona’s claims have been proven in court, and Metro Vancouver officials have yet to comprehensively address the allegations; however, commissioner and CAO Jerry Dobrovolny told local media that the region is “confident that its decision to terminate was justified.”

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Regional officials previously explained why on January 17, Metro Vancouver staff issued a notice of termination for the 2017 Acciona contract. They announced that the West 1st Street work site was considered to be “abandoned”, and that the Acciona crew had reduced in size during the last week of September 2021 from 300 to about 50 workers, despite the already significant construction delays.

Acciona responded to the claim by noting that it had merely “streamlined” its efforts in terms of the project’s labour force in late 2021.

The new wastewater treatment plant had originally been scheduled for completion by the end of 2020 at a cost of $700 million, but the timeline is now uncertain and may be closer to 2023 at a cost of more than $1 billion, Metro Vancouver officials said.

In February 2022, Metro Vancouver hired PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. at a cost of $40 million to act as the new general contractor on the wastewater project.

In the lawsuit, Acciona is critical of the North Shore plant’s site selection, which it says is “significantly smaller than sites usually selected for projects of a comparable scale.”  The project site is irregular in shape, and is surrounded by existing infrastructure in close proximity, the lawsuit states.

Acciona also detailed a list of requests for additional compensation during the build, known as unresolved supervening event notices. This includes incidents such as the financial impacts of COVID-19. All requests were denied by local officials, the company claims.

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