High water levels a factor in Billings Township’s waterfront project delay

KAGAWONG—The waterfront project in Billings Township has seen a delay in scheduling, in large part due to the rising water levels in Lake Huron.

“There is no way that anyone could envision the way the lake levels have come up,” stated Billings Mayor Ian Anderson during a regular council meeting last week. “When this project was first proposed I would hazard a guess that water levels were a lot lower than they are now. When I was in Owen Sound on the weekend I saw some of the problems they are having on their waterfront. It means projects like ours will be that much more complicated.”

“How can you plan for a one-and-a-half-foot increase in water levels,” said Mayor Anderson. “We have critical infrastructure that is going to need to be repaired and protected. And it sounds as if you are on top of things,” he said to township economic development officer Todd Gordon. 

Mr. Gordon presented council with an update on the waterfront project. He and township CAO Kathy McDonald met with Seven Rock Technology (7RT) on November 29 for a comprehensive review. “We are behind our schedule as created in July 2019 and our drift occurred in late October and through November. Specifically, we had expected to have final designs completed by this time. Further, we had planned to have a request for quote (RFQ) for dock package(s) written and released by the end of October. The timeline for the wastewater component has always been less clear, and justly so, given the specific challenges around this component.”

“In our discussion with 7RT, we were provided with an explanation of the factors contributing to delay, especially with respect to final construction design. The major factor is the reality that the rising water level in Lake Huron has exacerbated the deterioration of the entrance (abutment) to the Aus Hunt Marina (AHM). In addition, the rising water is anticipated to complicate the installation of the dimensional stone along the shoreline from the AHM abutment behind St. John’s Anglican Church to the vicinity of the White Rose Building, and all the small craft basin (SCB),” explained Mr. Gordon.

He pointed out the work on the AHM abutment represents an expansion of scope from the original project intent. It represents additional design and ultimately additional cost, said Mr. Gordon. “For the record, I am not saying that we did not anticipate some work on this piece but that the current reality means a complete rebuild of the abutment rather than the anticipated remedial work.”

For the rest of the shoreline (along the shore in front of the Anglican Church to the White Rose Building) and around the entire SCB this “additional construction complexity is manifested in two ways. Given that we are nearly at historical high water levels, and that the consensus around the Great Lakes is that we are likely going to exceed historical before this current cycle abates, construction of the dimensional stone shoreline will require more attention on the land side, with potentially more excavation and replacement with appropriate aggregate. Thus, we are faced with more detailed engineering and, very likely, higher construction cost,” he told council. “This construction work, because of both the high water level and the increased demand it places on construction means much of this work will have to take place in a ‘dewatered’ environment—that is to say that, our engineering support recommends that we will have to build a barrier (a dam), pump the water out and do the construction work. Although we have been assured that there are modern, less costly ways of performing this operation than in the past, this still represents an increased complexity and therefore increased cost.”

“Returning to the original schedule explanation, we have been assured by 7RT that the intent is to have construction designs, dock RFQ(s), electrical/utilities plan, AHM fuel system plan and everything necessary to create a civic works construction tender (construction other than dockage and wastewater treatment facility) by the week of January 6. This information will also allow the creation of a preliminary construction staging plan, as well as the ability to have more meaningful discussion with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource and Forestry (MNRF)—the primary regulator with respect to in-water construction work. Furthermore, we have been assured that 7RT is completely aware of the importance of getting back on track and the consequences should we not do so.”

“We also expect a preliminary engineered wastewater treatment facility (septic bed) plan,” said Mr. Gordon. “This has been facilitated by the creation of the waterfront building concept (created by Tulloch Engineering), for which the primary purpose was calculating realistic anticipated wastewater flows, which is a key component of determining the wastewater treatment (septic) bed.”

Mr. Gordon said, “although a formal dockage costing has not been conducted, both myself and 7RT have conducted a square foot-based comparison of the re-designed dock array with the costing produced in the previous engineering design. Because there have been additions to, and subtractions from, the earlier design in terms of square footage, we expect dockage costs to be very similar to that which was earlier projected: $4000,000 plus.”

“It is also worth noting that the dockage cost, as it currently presents itself, represents considerably more than projected in the funding applications (submitted in 2017). In our re-design efforts, post April 2019, this reality has caused us considerably less anxiety, because we believe we are going to spend considerably less than we anticipated on remedial work on the AHM main dock. However, given the realities discussed above (AHM abutment and shoreline wall), there are still serious cost pressures on this project taken as a whole,” continued Mr. Gordon. 

“In summary, we are behind schedule,” stated Mr. Gordon. “We expect to get back on schedule: design phase completed by early January, transitioning to construction tendering/RFQs. There are significant pressures on cost for this project, relative to the funding we have currently available.”