The utility company that runs Moncton's wastewater system is asking the province's auditor general to audit its upgrade project that began in 2017.
According to the TransAqua's chair, Michel Desjardins, the board of directors has called upon the auditor general because it is debating whether contract procurement methods struck an "appropriate balance between cost, quality and schedule."
TransAqua, also known as the Greater Moncton Wastewater Commission, does wastewater collection and treatment for Moncton, Riverview and Dieppe. The $90.4 million dollar project was launched to comply with new federal effluent regulation standards.
"We have a strong board and a number of good questions have been raised about whether our approaches to awarding contracts provided optimal value to the Greater Moncton rate payers within GMWC's Purchasing Policy and the New Brunswick Procurement Act," reads the release. "We have performed our due diligence and provided all information about our procurement methods to our funding partners, Infrastructure Canada and the Regional Development Corporation, and to the municipalities."
The project aims to reduce the amount of waste water going into the Petitcodiac River at Outhouse Point.
While that part was completed to meet the 2020 deadline, according to the company, it's still in the final phases of the upgrade project. Last December, it announced it would spend $500,000 to add a heat recovery system in the spring.
Desjardins told Information Morning Moncton doubts are arising on whether the right contract was chosen to provide maximum value for ratepayers
"In the course of the last few months, some members of the governing body, which are unpaid trustees of the organization, asked questions about the makeup of all the types of contracts that we awarded throughout this project. And you can imagine, awarding contracts for a project this big is no simple matter."
Desjardins says the move to call for a third-party investigation by the auditor general is needed to get out of the "limbo" the board has found itself in.
"We are in the business of earning and maintaining the public trust. By turning this question over to her, we felt that was the best way to resolve the matter."
Not related to previous audit
In 2019, financial irregularities lead to an audit into the contractor Pomerleau Inc., who fired an employee after learning of "unethical behaviour" at one of its New Brunswick projects. It didn't elaborate on where, when or what happened.
Quebec-based Pomerleau Inc. was awarded a $12.25 million contract in 2017 for construction work at the TransAqua plant.
Around the same time, TransAqua issued a statement saying its staff discovered a "financial discrepancy" related to the upgrade work.
Desjardins said that incident has nothing to do with the current debate among board members.
"There is no connection whatsoever," said Desjardins. "TransAqua never fired an employee over this matter, it was an employee of a contractor that [did] so."
When asked if this led to questions about the contracting process for the 2017 upgrade, Desjardins denied that was the case.
"This was an incident that happened in the first phase of the project and ... this issue was resolved. There is absolutely no connection between those two issues."
Timeline for current project and audit
While TransAqua is unsure when they'll hear back from the auditor general with a report, Desjardins said it won't affect the completion of the project.
"I think most would agree that achieving this milestone December, 31 2020 and getting the river cleaned up is an accomplishment."
"As the chair of the organization I'm personally very proud of that, and we'll see what the AG says at some point, we're not sure when."