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Riel Park costs balloon

A city councillor says he's "appalled" by ballooning cost overruns for the Riel Recreation Park project, which has jumped another $2.3 million. City council on Monday topped up funding to $8.

A city councillor says he's "appalled" by ballooning cost overruns for the Riel Recreation Park project, which has jumped another $2.3 million.

City council on Monday topped up funding to $8.5 million for the second phase of landfill remediation and site work at Riel Park. The money allows the city to cap and grade another section of the former landfill and redevelop the Kinsmen rodeo grounds, BMX track and Rotary Park.

Though the extra funding was approved, another cost overrun did not sit well with council. It comes after several budget amendments to the first phase, which to date has cost more than $13 million.

"I fully support service clubs, they do a lot for our community," said Coun. Roger Lemieux, "but I am appalled at the rising cost on this project. Either there's something wrong with our system of [project] tendering, in our system of inspecting … something's wrong."

Neil Jamieson, general manager of planning and engineering, said several issues prompted the request for additional dollars, including construction tenders that exceeded expectations.

The area requires more capping and grading, adding costs, as will the installation of concrete plugs at the location of two major gas lines that run through the site. Both issues were previously unforeseen and were only discovered after the completion of detailed designs.

Administration recommended covering the budget shortfall with $2.1 million in federal gas tax grant dollars. City manager Bill Holtby said the grant has yielded more dollars than the city budgeted. The remaining $160,000 will be covered with property tax dollars already approved in the 2010 budget, leaving no additional impact on taxpayers.

City staff also recommended postponing $2 million in landfill work because the utility reserve is in deficit. Administration suggested doing the work next year to alleviate the stress on the reserve.

Project status in doubt

Even with the extra dollars, it's uncertain whether work will begin on phase two this year. Jamieson said a full inspection is currently under way on the pipelines and, depending on what they find, the project may not even start this year.

That answer did not go over well with council.

"So you went out for tendering without knowing the full extent of the problem?" Mayor Nolan Crouse asked administration.

"We just found out about this," responded Jamieson.

Resident Andy Keller, who has spoken against the project in the past, said the city should stop funding the Riel Park project until a realistic picture of the true costs are brought to light.

"There seems to be a problem with producing realistic costs," he said. "Everyone knew there was a landfill there."

Council agreed to cover the $2.3 million, but would not cancel the $2 million in landfill work. The city is under a federal order to remediate the landfill by 2013.

Coun. Len Bracko said the city needs to go to the federal government for funding help, adding it is their enforcement rules that are pushing the city to a point where they may not be able to afford the necessary repairs. He suggested council invoice the federal environment ministry for the total cost of reclamation, an idea that elicited chuckles from council.

"It's time the feds came up with some money," he said. "They've got to come to the plate or back off."

Council asked administration to spell out the funding picture for Riel Recreation Park with a full timeline and project costs, work that's due by Sept. 27. Many councillors indicated that the review was the only way they would be willing to support phases three and four of the project, which would see the capping, grading and installation of turf on the soccer and rugby fields.

Crouse, Bracko and Holtby will also work together to discuss funding possibilities with the provincial and federal environmental ministries.