Stettler County will re-tender Buffalo Lake septic contract after contractor complaints

The County of Stettler will re-tender a contract to haul sewage in the Buffalo Lake area after a lengthy debate at the Nov. 15 regular council meeting.

Councillors discussed the presentation of Darren Sutton, owner/operator of Sutton Septic Services, who appeared before council in October to explain how closure of some Stettler County lagoons and Buffalo Lake road bans drove his costs up.

At that appearance Sutton reminded councillors he has a contract with Stettler County to haul sewage for the municipality from a tank in the Buffalo Lake area but his expenses increased due to Stettler County change such as road bans.

County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy and Director of Municipal Services Andrew Brysiuk presented councillors with options, including re-tendering the contract for septic haulage for Buffalo View Estates and Buffalo Sands, and provide notice of termination of the existing contract to Sutton’s Septic Service, renegotiating Sutton’s existing contract, or simply leave the existing contract in place until its 2024 expiration date.

Coun. Justin Stevens stated he was “quite opposed” to renegotiating Sutton’s existing contract with one factor being that he doesn’t know whether other companies who bid against Sutton took things like road bans into account in their higher bids.

Stevens stated that re-negotiating an existing contract is “picking favourites after the fact.”

Stevens stated he would support re-tendering the contract, and made the motion to do so. Stevens also wondered if Stettler County should explore a grinder pump option which may allow more sewage to be hauled on banned roads.

Coun. Les Stulberg stated he agreed re-tendering the contract was the fairest option, as all players are on the same page. “So I’d be more comfortable with opening it up to everybody,” said Stulberg.

Coun. James Nibourg asked if any re-tendered contract would be changed in the future, for example, by road bans? The CAO answered Bay Street, an important route in the discussion, will remain banned and needs to stay that way.

Cassidy noted a new contract would also allow Stettler County to identify a specific route septic haulers must use which Nibourg noted was a good idea. However, the CAO added that the route is always subject to change.

Nibourg suggested councillors stick with Sutton’s current contract and while he noted he sympathized with Sutton’s problems sticking with the current contract that Sutton agreed to would give Stettler County time to investigate grinder pumps and see if Red Willow lagoon re-opens.

“We’ve got a contract to 2024,” said Nibourg. He added that the current contractor is likely the most economically prudent option and that re-tendering could see “significant” increases in this contract. If costs increase significantly the county may have to pass that along to the residents who benefit from this service, Nibourg stated.

Cassidy mused it may be prudent to tender this contract annually until the lagoon situation improves.

Cassidy stated the best way to gather information on a tender is to re-tender it.

Coun. Dave Grover stated it would be nice to know what the grinder pumps would costs and whether power needs were already met.

Staff answered that they couldn’t answer the power needs question but estimated the pumps at about $5,000 each.

Stulberg interjected that the history of grinder pumps in the Endiang area isn’t great.

Stevens’ motion was amended to include a one year term for the new contract which would allow a possibly re-opened Red Willow lagoon to become a factor and also to see if fuel prices calmed.

The motion was passed by a 4 to 3 vote, with councillors Stulberg, Stevens, Paul Mackay and Ernie Gendre in favour, and Nibourg, Grover and Reeve Larry Clarke opposed.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review