Contractors continue to work on the McLean Mill dam restoration project, which first started in 2018. (April 16, 2021) (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Contractors continue to work on the McLean Mill dam restoration project, which first started in 2018. (April 16, 2021) (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Work on Port Alberni’s McLean Mill dam continues, despite botched tender process

Mill project progressing ‘on budget’ says special projects coordinator

City of Port Alberni CAO Tim Pley said he made a mistake when he awarded a tender for the McLean Mill dam restoration work without council’s approval.

The question about how Bowerman Excavating Ltd. received the contract and how much money it is came up after Leslie Walerius read an article about the restoration in the March 31 Alberni Valley News. She began questioning when council approved funding.

The project tender closed in August 2019, with only one bidder in Bowerman Excavating Ltd. The tender price was higher than budgeted, so city council declined to award it and directed staff to re-tender the project in six months.

Over the next few months, city staff investigated potential grant funding and the potential for city staff and the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society to undertake the work themselves, but none of this panned out.

In May 2020, council approved a new budget with increased funding for the dam project. In August of that year, city staff re-engaged with Bowerman Excavating and, after some scope adjustments, a revised tender price was negotiated that fell within the city’s budget. City CAO Tim Pley awarded the tender to Bowerman Excavating without consulting council.

“In hindsight, I erred in that approval,” said Pley during a council meeting on April 26. “That magnitude of contract should have been awarded by council, and council had given express direction to re-tender the project, which we did not do. I regret that I made that decision out of process. I don’t think that it indicates in any way a failing on the part of our purchasing policy or procedures, it’s just a matter of not adhering to that policy. And again, that was completely my decision and my responsibility.”

There was no discussion amongst councillors after Pley made his statement. No action was taken.

Work continues on the dam restoration project despite the lack of compliance in the tendering process.

Ken Watson, special projects coordinator for the city, said the mill project is progressing on budget and should be done by the end of April or beginning of May.

READ MORE: McLean Mill Historic Site needs further testing

Susan Roth, one of a handful of people trying to hold the city accountable with its actions at McLean Mill, complained on social media about the city’s dumping “sludge” from the log pond onto a piece of property belonging to Mosaic Forest Management. Watson acknowledged “four or five truck loads” of the muddy mixture was originally dumped where it shouldn’t have been, and was dug up again and moved to another location closer to the log pond. It was also mixed with topsoil.

He said it is not sludge, which could be construed as toxic (like from wastewater treatment), but naturally occurring mud and sediment from the bottom of the log pond.

The log pond was drained so contractors could replace a low-level pipeline, but only after environmental consultant TerraWest tested the water and gave its approval. Water was dispersed in a forested area close by the pond, where the ground and trees would provide natural filtration, Watson explained.

He said the orange-coloured sediment that remains at the bottom of the log pond is naturally occurring as well. “Iron is an issue in the pond but it’s not a toxin. The colour that arose was from a bacteria that likes iron.

“That’s what caused concern back in 2018.”

In 2018 water from the mill pond was released into Kitsuksis Creek, threatening water quality.

Regional dam safety officer Dave Skarbo visited the dam site recently to check on the progress. “He’s pleased with the way the work is getting done,” Watson said.

Skarbo was unavailable for an interview.