A winter storm in Texas this February left residents without water and power for days at a time. Pipes burst across the state. This raised the cost of HDPE and PVC pipes across North America, and is one of the reasons that Iqaluit city council voted unanimously last week to defer a much needed expansion of its main sewer line.
The city's sewer system is at capacity. There's a four-phased plan to expand it, and the second phase was set to happen this summer.
Every bid the city received to do the expansion was millions of dollars over budget.
"If the city awards the contract to the lowest bidder, we'd still be short over $2.5 million dollars," Iqaluit's chief administrative officer, Amy Elgersma, told councillors before they voted.
There are several reasons why costs are high, aside from the "Texas freeze," which is how Elgersma refers to the storm that drove up the price of pipes.
If companies need to bring in outside workers, they have to pay for them to isolate in a southern hotel before they enter Nunavut. There's also a risk that the workers could bring COVID-19 into the territory, even with the two weeks of mandatory isolation.
These costs are "really significant, of course, for the city," Elgersma said in an interview.
"So we'll re-tender it for next year in the hopes for improved conditions and pricing."
The hope is that next year the price of pipes will have levelled out, and that COVID-19 won't be making construction in general cost so much.
Iqaluit's sewer system has to stay how it is for now.
This means that any large complexes under construction or renovation now will require a sewage holding tank — they won't be able to connect to Iqaluit's utilidor.
"It could increase the cost up to $300,000 per development," Elgersma said.
Any large development built in the past two years has required a sewage holding tank. Once the sewer main line expansion project is complete, they will be able to connect to it.
Along with deferring the second phase of the sewage main line expansion project, two other capital projects planned for this summer have been delayed due to the high cost of materials and risks associated with COVID-19.
Those are the construction of the waste transfer station, and most of the planned renovations to the fire hall.
"We are fortunate, though, that we have quite a few projects that are underway." Elgersma said.
There is a list of 15 critical capital projects that are going ahead this summer.
These include supplemental pumping out of the Apex River for the city's water supply, remediation of the Apex cemetery, and upgrading some utilidor pipes.
These projects were already awarded to contractors at budget, and will be done by local workers.