tp-dehcho-bridge-spring09

Construction has been delayed by at least a year on the Deh Cho Bridge over the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. ((CBC))

Atcon Construction is no longer the main builder in a major, controversial bridge project in the Northwest Territories.

Officials with the New Brunswick and N.W.T. governments, as well as the Deh Cho Bridge Corp. — which is overseeing construction and operation of the one-kilometre span over the Mackenzie River — confirmed Wednesday that the Miramichi, N.B.-based company will not be the bridge's general contractor as the project enters its second phase of construction.

The falling-out between the two companies came after the bridge corporation approached Atcon in November with changes to the bridge's design, as the result of structural problems identified last summer.

"We delivered the new designs to Atcon, and it was up to them to provide a price and schedule and other terms that we could agree on," Deh Cho Bridge Corp. manager Andrew Gamble told CBC News on Wednesday.

"At the end of negotiations, we couldn't agree — largely on price."

Gamble said Atcon will be paid "for the costs they incurred in doing the work that they did, and a reasonable markup."

Atcon will also be paid to return its $2-million equity share to the bridge corporation, which will have to raise that money again.

Subject of controversy

When completed, the Deh Cho Bridge at Fort Providence, N.W.T., will link Yellowknife to southern Canada year round, replacing the current summer ferry service and winter ice road across the Mackenzie River.

But the bridge, currently estimated to cost about $165 million, has been the subject of controversy over the past two years of construction.

Officials with the bridge corporation announced in July that construction would be at least one year behind schedule.

About a month before that announcement, the New Brunswick government had offered the Atcon Group three loan guarantees in June worth a combined $50 million.

A $10-million loan guarantee included in the package was to help Atcon finance a steel fabrication facility, which would build components for the bridge project.

In an email to CBC News, a  spokesperson for Business New Brunswick said the province's loan guarantee agreements with Atcon remain unchanged.

New contractor needed by March

As for the bridge's future, the change in contractor should not delay construction any further, said Gamble. As well, he said some of the resulting cost overruns will be recovered because the new bridge design will cost less to build.

However, the bridge corporation has a tight timeline ahead. It has to find a new general contractor by March 1 in order to keep the project on schedule.

"If we can get a contractor in place in March, the fabrication would commence immediately, and we would hope to begin launching the superstructure by the fall of 2010," Gamble said.

The N.W.T. government is helping the bridge corporation through the process, highways director Kevin McLeod said.

"Major contracts have to be approved — capital-A approved — by the GNWT [Government of the Northwest Territories]," McLeod said.

"We've always felt that it's better to be working along with the Deh Cho Bridge Corp., and knowing all the details as they ask for approvals, so we save a lot of time in the end."

If all goes well, the bridge is expected to be finished in late-2011.