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No new salt shed this winter?

Contractors’ bids grossly exceed PAB’s budget for project

The Port aux Basques municipal depot is located on Hopedale Avenue, and the old one, along with town’s salt shed, were removed last year. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — The town was hoping to have a new salt shed built, but it seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. There is a lifespan on municipal buildings, and the old salt shed had to be torn down because it was beyond repair. The lack of a new shed for this winter prove problematic when it comes to storing the town’s salt supply. “Our previous municipal salt shed was located across street from town hall. When the former depot was demolished, so was the former salt building because it was beyond repair,” said Town Manager Leon MacIsaac. “It was in rough condition, same as the building. Last winter, we were very fortunate that the province gave us some salt we could store on the end of cul de sac on the end of Hopedale Avenue, and use their facility over there because we were waiting for a new municipal salt that should be constructed. We were very lucky it was a very favourable winter. Given the light conditions in the winter, we were extremely lucky, in my opinion.” The former salt shed had been deteriorating for years. “We started consultant work late in ‘21, early ‘22 to have the building ready for the 2022 winter season. It went to tender in April of last year with five companies bidding on it. We had a certain amount of funding, roughly $692,000 approved by the province. However, the lowest bid that came in from the five companies was $951,500, approximately,” said MacIsaac.

The highest bid came in at a little over $1 million, and while it was only about a $50,000 difference, it was still beyond the town’s budget. The town’s plans are back in motion as they finalize the location for a new salt shed on Hopedale Avenue, adjacent to the new municipal depot. This project is a top priority for the town, as they want to avoid storing salt on the streets again. “It’s susceptible to rain. Rain freezes in ice and you have to break it apart and everything. It gets jammed in the screening process, in trucking it as well because the salt is distributed through what’s known as the salt spreader system, which is a turnstile system on mount. So rock or ice chunks can’t pass through that system, so that impacts the quality of your rock or your salt sand mixture as well,” explained MacIsaac. “We generally get it (the salt) from the province currently, where it’s already pre-mixed. With our own salt shed we’ll buy the pure salt and then mix our salts and keep it in the building.” The original plans for the building was for it to be approximately 18 feet high with a 16 foot door on the end, but now that costs have increased, even to construct a smaller building will make the project even further out of reach than the before. “We went to the province to ask if they could possibly permit us to do project management, try and get it done locally and bring it in under budget, but the province wasn’t really in agreement. It preferred that we stay on the pathway with the province. They typically don’t provide project management. We have done them in the past, but they’re trying to discourage municipalities to do their own project management for a number of reasons,” said MacIsaac. “Although we feel quite comfortable and confident we can do it ourselves and keep it within budget — we have done quite a few in the past — we went back to the consultant, had them revise the drawings, and of course, there’s additional costs, consulting fees as a result of revised drawings, and the building is reduced by 27 per cent in footprint. It’s now around 50 by 70 (feet). It went back at tender a short while ago, closed this past Friday, September the 8th, with three companies bidding once again. This time, the lowest bid was just over $1.4 million, which was a 56 per cent increase in costs for a 27 per cent smaller building. We not just reduced the building size, we reduced materials as well. We were trying to bring the cost down and it still went up by approximately 40 per cent for the bid.” The highest bid came in at just over $2 million, and of the three companies who placed a bid, only one also bid on the first tender that had been issued for the project. “From a town manager perspective, I really have no understanding of the market, unfortunately,” said MacIsaac. “I can’t foresee what’s coming, but I certainly didn’t expect that kind of pricing. I expected to see a reduction from numbers last year, because the materials and everything else had been greatly reduced, or even comparable because of the environment. However, costs have gone down since early 2022. They have dropped quite a bit, so that should have been reflected in the bids.” This was not the news town councillors wanted or expected to hear. “I presented it at the meeting last night. They discussed it and they’re really discouraged by the process of trying to get a new municipal building, and they discussed amongst themselves about how it would be cheaper for the town to get it done locally without provincial funding than it would be to move forward with the current scenario,” said MacIsaac. “We did not budget a million dollars for a new salt shed out of our own pockets — I shouldn’t say our pockets — out of the residents’ pockets. Residents, at the end of the day, pay for it.” Next the town plans to issue the tender to entice local contractors. The town will also continue to follow provincial guidelines, which means the successful bidding contractor will still have to be core certified. “All the sub (contractors) aren’t necessarily required to have core certification, but that’s a provincial requirement for provincial programs and we’re not necessarily held to that same accountability. But to ensure that we stay within those guidelines, we’re going to try to do the same as much as we can, but still at the same time we want to bring those costs down. We could reduce the building again, but then it’s getting smaller than we really need.” In an average year, Port aux Basques goes through approximately 2,000 to 2,500 tonnes of salt, which means decreasing the size of the salt shed even further is simply not feasible. “The greater you reduce, the greater your dependency on the provincial depots. We don’t want to be dependent on them. We’re going to be independent, and then if other municipalities in the area get short, like we’ve had years before where we negotiate problems, additional salt because they’re running low. We can’t get any additional if they’re running low themselves because of a bad winter,” said MacIsaac. “I think it was the winter of 2017 – 2018, we had to negotiate for more salt because we got over our allotment for the year and the province was running low themselves, so they had to negotiate whether or not they could still provide more product to us.” Going with local tenders as opposed to the provincial route may also mean the town may not be able to use the monies allotted to them by the government. “We’re going to have to negotiate a bank loan for this, but if we continue with the project, we would have to get a loan for a million dollars,” said MacIsaac. “If we can get it done for significantly less as a bank loan, it will be a much smaller sum, but we do need a municipal salt shed.” The hope is to have the new salt shed completed before the winter season of 2024 – 2025. “We won’t get our own salt and sand this year. We’re still going to have to get deliveries from the provincial depot to our own, but at least this time next year, we’ll have our own salt, our own winter sand mixer ourselves in the building. We’re not running up to the weigh scales, getting it weighed and calculating it for payment as well. Every truck, when we get a load from the provincial municipal depot, it has to get weighed for payment to ensure accuracy. Last winter, we didn’t do it a lot because we’re close by and it didn’t make economic sense to run up and come back. But typically, that’s what we have to do. It has to be weighed before it can enter our yard.” MacIsaac still hopes that some provincial funding can be found to help offset municipal costs. “Hopefully the departments can provide some funding. I’m not confident they will, but it would be nice if they did, nice if they want to show some leniency, but I don’t expect that will happen because we can’t wait for those decisions. We have to move forward as quickly as we can,” said MacIsaac. “We certainly hope to keep within budget, but I guess hopefully next few days or week, we’ll get a better understanding. I won’t gain any pricing back this week, but hopefully early next, we’ll get an idea where we are and we can proceed from there.”

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