N.B. taxpayers on hook for N.W.T. bridge repairs

New Brunswick taxpayers will have to pay up to $4 million to fix a major bridge in the Northwest Territories that was partially built by Atcon Construction.

New Brunswick taxpayers will have to pay up to $4 million to repair a major bridge in the Northwest Territories that was partially built by a New Brunswick firm.

A construction audit released by the N.W.T. government this week has identified a number of problems with  Atcon Construction's work on the the Deh Cho Bridge project, which is being built across the Mackenzie River.

Atcon was the Deh Cho Bridge's general contractor until January 2010, when it was removed from the $182-million megaproject because it couldn't agree on terms for the second phase of construction with the bridge's developer.

Ruskin Construction officially took over as general contractor of the bridge in March 2010. About the same time, the Atcon Group was placed in receivership, despite loan guarantees totalling about $70 million it had received from the New Brunswick government.

N.W.T. transportation officials said the construction audit by Levelton Consultants has identified issues with the bridge that will cost between $4 million and $7 million to resolve.

'We have to sort it out'

Because the N.W.T. government has already held back $2.9 million from Atcon to fix any problems created during the company's tenure, New Brunswick taxpayers will have to pay the rest — somewhere between $1 million and $4 million.

"The people of the N.W.T. are in the driver's seat here. This was their project," Kevin McLeod, the N.W.T. government's Deh Cho Bridge project manager, told reporters in Yellowknife on Tuesday.

"People guaranteed it, they didn't meet their specifications, so now we have to sort it out."

In October 2010, the New Brunswick government agreed to pay up to $13.3 million to cover any repairs beyond the amount that was held back from Atcon.

The work needed on the bridge includes quality control, levelling the rocks that protect the bridge's pier bases, and checking for — and possibly patching — a hole in one of the piers.

None of the issues raised in the construction audit affect the structural integrity of the bridge, McLeod said.

Repairs won't be rushed: official

McLeod said the New Brunswick government is pressuring him to finish the repair work quickly, but he warned that some of that work may not be done until after construction is completed.

"I don't want to rush anything. I believe that things that are done in a rush are normally done wrong and need to be redone," McLeod said.

"There will be lots of pressure on me to do things quickly, but I am resisting that pressure at all costs," he added. "At the end of the day, I want this bridge to be high quality."

The Deh Cho Bridge is currently slated to open in November. Once it does, it will provide a year-round road link between Yellowknife and other communities in the N.W.T.'s North Slave region and southern Canada.

The bridge is expected to replace the current ferry service and winter ice crossing on the Mackenzie River.

The project was originally a private-public partnership between the Northwest Territories government and the Deh Cho Bridge Corp. of Fort Providence, N.W.T., where the bridge is located.

Ex-manager not surprised at findings

Not long after Atcon was removed from the bridge contract, the territorial government took over full responsibility for the project from the bridge corporation.

Former Deh Cho Bridge Corp. project manager Andrew Gamble said he was not surprised about the problems raised by the construction audit.

"This was an issue we had from the beginning. They felt this was something that we could have fixed," Gamble told CBC News Tuesday.

"They've had it for a year and they haven't been able to fix it. So I think that they maybe appreciate the frustration we had a little better."

Gamble said tracking down Atcon's documentation was one of the reasons why the New Brunswick company is not involved in the bridge project anymore.

Federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser is reviewing the Deh Cho Bridge project and how it was run. Her report is due on March 1.