Public-private deal a first for Sudbury

Sudbury city council approved the city's first major public-private partnership Tuesday night to build and operate a new biosolids plant.

Biosolids treatment plant will be built on Kelly Lake Road and operated by private Toronto firm

For about 30 years, Greater Sudbury has been using Vale's tailings ponds as a place to dump the city's sewage sludge. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Sudbury city council approved the city's first major public-private partnership Tuesday night to build and operate a new biosolids plant.

The $62 million deal with Toronto-based N-Viro Systems will process sewage sludge that has been dumped on the tailings ponds near Lively. The sewage disposal process was part of a decades-long agreement with mining company Vale that helped to neutralize waste from mining operations in the tailings ponds.

A Greater Sudbury worker oversees the release of sewage sludge into a tailings pond on Vale property near Lively, Ont. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Residents' complaints about the smell from the area prompted council to look for a new solution a few years ago.

But city councillor Dave Kilgour said he doesn't want the public to think this is just about stink.

"This is definitely a safety issue," he said. "It's a health issue and it's an environmental issue."

The city will receive $11 million from the federal government for the new plant, because it's partnering with a private firm.

'Conservative ideology'

But city councillor Claude Berthiaume said he thinks the deal is not worth the money.

"Frankly, it's a Conservative ideology they're pushing on municipalities," he said. "I think we could have done without it, and built and maintain ourselves, with our own employees."

The union representing workers with the city of Greater Sudbury said it's very disappointed with city council.

The president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4705 said the union feels there is too much risk involved with this kind of project.

"When you get into a P-3, you know, they put all these restrictions down and so on and so forth," Fred Posadowski said.

"And the company is responsible for this and the company is responsible for that. This company can go bankrupt and walk away from the whole thing and the city's going to end up holding it."

Nevertheless, Sudbury's mayor is hopeful the public-private deal approved by city council Tuesday night will be the first of many.

Mayor Marianne Matichuk said the biosolids plant will be the test case for public-private partnerships in the city.

"This is a big project for the city," she said. "It is something we're going to be measured on."

Matichuk has said the city should consider more deals with private companies for big ticket projects such as a convention centre or new arena.

Construction on the new biosolids plant, which will be on Kelly Lake Road, is expected to begin in the spring. Building it will take about two years — during which time the sewage will continue to be dumped on Vale's tailings ponds.