Responding to a string of enquiries about the Bodalla sewerage project and concerns surrounding possible cost blowouts that might see resident contributions rising The Beagle can advise that things aren't looking as "on track" as many might wish. The latest media release from Council was in May 2018 where they stated: Construction of the sewage treatment plant is almost complete, however, Council has identified some issues with work that are critical to the treatment plant performance. These need to be rectified before Council can allow the treatment plant to accept flows of sewage. It is regrettable that works have subsequently fallen behind schedule, but Council is working hard to resolve these issues in accordance with the contract. We would like to provide more certainty to the community about sewage connection time frames, however, until the issues are resolved to the extent that progress at the treatment plant can recommence, Council cannot provide any further clarity on when the treatment plant will be able to accept sewage flows. While Council said they had identified some issues they weren't all that forth coming as to what the issues were or the enormity of those issues. Recently Council agreed to take out a long term loan on the Bodalla Sewer Project for a period somewhere between 10 and 30 years (they aren't telling for how long of for how much and at what interest rate) What they do say is that the loan is inter-generational which means that not just the current ratepayers will be paying it off but future generations will be paying it off as well. It looks like they are going to now have to borrow a whole lot more. It is understood that Council will be issuing another media release in the coming weeks which we wait to read with interest to see what is actually revealed in detail surrounding the "issues with work that are critical to the treatment plant performance"
One "issue" we are aware of is described in the photo above. In the photo you will see a pond which is around the size of a football field. It is one of several detention ponds for Bodalla sewer project. These ponds were dug and shaped - however it has been revealed by a member of the public, who passed this photo on to The Beagle, that the ponds are compromised. The ponds appear to a highly eroded formed surface suggesting the material has little, if any, clay bonding component and as such the material has not bound, leading to the deep erosion fissures you see which, by observation, are of a depth of around 300mm and are of an average width of 50mm If that proves to be the case the ponds will have to be drained, reshaped and then a bespoke membrane placed over them as it is considered that the cost to remove the present material and resupply and form a more suitable plastic (clay) material would be cost prohibitive at this stage of the project. And such membrane material is VERY expensive and NOT budgeted for. A full explanation of the issues and the steps council is now taking towards their remediation would be most welcome especially if the remediation will come at an additional cost to ratepayers. It would be good governance too, as well as fixing the problem, to investigate what has happened further back in the chain of events and progressively to date because it is neither rocket science/brain surgery being performed here. It’s out there in the open air for all to see – it’s not mysterious like a new suite of Council software that is also suffering a MAJOR cost blowout well beyond what was budgeted for and, as yet, is still failing to meet its brief. Councillors have not yet asked questions on notice regarding this particular blowout however it is understood that Council will also need to take out a further loan for the Software Upgrade Project that is known to now be well over budget. Once again that loan will be inter-generational however the impact of all loans is carried by ratepayers and taxpayers.
Council's Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee should be involved in the investigation and reporting of both blowouts as an integral part of the overview of their resolution to ensure that any learning experiences can be recorded to minimise any future problems of this nature. It is more than evident that there is a risk in both projects which were not recognised and as such there is ample scope for improvement and the justification for hands on analysis by the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee as independent representatives of ratepayers.
The committee members could ask questions like –
What was the initial brief to tenderers?
Were the credentials and past performances of the tendering contractors actually verified?
What were the project’s criteria and their grading in the risk management analysis?
Who selected the successful contractor?
On what bases was the tender awarded?
What supervision/progress inspection schedule was determined by council to be required?
What were the critical stages/dates to ensure timely project completion?
Were councillors fully informed of council’s planned monitoring of the project before awarding the contract?
Was the project supervised/inspected/progress monitored according to the schedules specified by council?
At what stage was the “deficiencies” discovered, to whom were they reported and what remedial actions were agreed to be instigated?
What are the current risk management implications - relative to the contractor’s ability to remedy the problem physically and financially, the impact on completion date, final cost exposure to council, potential legal actions, etc.?
What further community advice/consultation is required? No doubt the councillors are on top of all of this though as our elected representatives and have been having lots of backroom briefings keeping them aware of the status of both projects, the cost blowout figures and the plans in place for remediation as well as the plans to keep the community well informed of timelines and the extent to which they to will be impacted.