Guelph’s $33 million Microbe Motel set to reopen


Down on Watson Road the world’s largest chemistry set is about to start accepting limited amounts of wet garbage to feed its hungry hoard of miniscule microbes. Known as the Wet Waste Management Plant, the chemical reaction of trillions of the little beasties is eagerly awaiting their munchies of sloppy wet garbage.

The theory is that these miracle micros turn the wet yucky stuff from our homes and businesses into lovely dry compost filled with natural nutrients. How to handle all that compost, that is created 365 days a year, has yet to be decided.

Well a funny thing happened as the microbe motel was fired up last September. Odours permeating the nearby residential neighbourhoods, as a result of this giant experiment in grand new digs, became a redux of an old problem.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The city, through its environmental services and engineering department under the leadership of garbage maven Janet Laird, had assured residents for the past three years that this would not happen.

We know now it did.

The plant stopped taking the wet waste on November 25 to permit an investigation of what went wrong.

About two weeks later in a press release, Executive Director Janet Laird promised the plant would be in full production by the end of December.

So much for that. Then it was announced that the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) would investigate the problems associated with the plant’s design and construction to determine responsibility and solutions.

That process has started and the PAC is meeting January 16 to examine data and study an action plan to fix the problems.

Already there have been leaks of information that point the finger at the design and construction of the plant by Maple Reinders.

The city’s responsibility in all this has been adroitly avoided by putting the onus of fixing the problem on the laps of the PAC. The mayor and her sidekick Laird have blended into the woodwork on this issue, leaving the hard decisions to a non-elected group of citizens and staff.

While it might be good politics, it is really an abdication of responsibility. At a time when real leadership is required, the Farbridge administration put the wagons in a circle to avoid public criticism.

The irony is that the Ministry of Environment (MOE) director for this area has stated that the plant’s certificate of approval did not include a “commissioning period.”

It has now been revealed that it will take from four to five months for the microbe motel to reach full production.

The bottom line: What is the payback?  How will the city pay the capital costs of launching a $50 million waste management system? What are the real operating costs?

Look at it this way: We have a $33 million microbe motel that doesn’t work; a $2.5 million skating rink in front of city hall and a new $16 million civic museum built on someone else’s property. Add in the $10 million it will cost the city for the new WellingtonDufferinGuelph public health headquarters and the public coffers are empty.

Now that’s what I call voodoo fiscal management.

1 Comment

Filed under Between the Lines

One response to “Guelph’s $33 million Microbe Motel set to reopen

  1. KS

    PLC Meeting Questions January 12, 2012
    Two questions from the PLC were:
    Question #1: Is there a reason that after spending $59,000.00 for roughing in a power booster, that it was never installed or listed as part of the action plan? Answer Given: The design of the facility and the odour modeling met the C of A requirement of 1.0 Odour Unit without the “afterburner”. It is felt that the “afterburner” is not required at this time. If there are odour issues in the future, installing this item will be looked at. Comment: When questioned at the PLC meeting, know one seemed to know why it was roughed in, what it would cost to install or how it works. It looks like the tax payers have either wasted $59,000.00 to rough in something for nothing or that the cost to install it is more than the fine that they are opening themselves up to if there are odour violations when the action plan is completed and the plant is back into operation. How can they say that the modeling met the C of A requirement when in reality there were odour violations? To the average person, this would tell you that the modeling is bunk and that it cannot be relied on.
    Question #2: In the original design-build contract with Maple, the added cost to the contract was a “budget” number of $25,000.00 for “roughing in” space for acid scrubber. The question is, was this budget amount for one scrubber and three were installed? And what was the total cost in relationship to the 25,000.00 budget for everything? Answer: The original design proposed by Maple did not include an acid scrubber system. During the value engineering process it was decided to “rough in” the infrastructure to install an acid scrubber system in case it was needed in the future. “Roughing in” the acid scrubber is similar to “roughing in” the plumbing for a bathroom in the basement of a new house in that only the minimum infrastructure is installed (i.e. Pipes and electrical wiring). During the C of A discussions, the MOE mandated the installation of an acid scrubber system in the facility. The total cost to comply with the MOE’s C of A requirement was $392,679.58 (design equipment construction). Comment: Since Maple did not propose an acid scrubber system in their original design, would you not think that their modeling also indicated that it was not required? Why is this item such a big part of the action plan to get it working properly and looked at as a big part of the odour problem when it was never proposed in the first place. Are we to assume that the “afterburner” is also a key piece of equipment, however due to costs, the design build contractor is willing to sacrifice a fine from the MOE to the City instead of taking money out of their pockets to do everything they can to control the odours?
    Seeing how they handle the next odour complaints should prove to be interesting.

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