As controversy swirls around the massively overbudget Metro Vancouver Wastewater Treatment Plant, early work on an even bigger sewage plant is moving ahead.

The 61-year-old Iona Island Wastewater Plant needs an upgrade to serve Metro Vancouver’s surging population and to meet federal pollution regulations.

The facility, located between South Vancouver and the Vancouver International Airport, handles about 40 per cent of the region’s wastewater.

That project is currently budgeted at $10 billion, and on Wednesday the Metro Vancouver Liquid Waste Committee approved a $60-million contract for design consultants.

Click to play video: 'Former B.C. auditor general for local government calls for North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant review'

The project faces major public scrutiny amid backlash over the North Shore project, which has seen its projected cost quadruple to nearly $4 billion.

Newly elected Metro Vancouver Board Chair Mike Hurley said he was concerned about preventing a repeat on the Iona project.


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“Because I always see an open chequebook when it comes to consultants, for whatever reason,” he said. “I really do need to understand that we are keeping a real lid on how much we’re paying consultants.”

While Metro Vancouver has announced a review of the North Shore plant, calls for a provincial or federal audit have so far gone unanswered.

New Westminster City Councillor Daniel Fontaine said that’s a problem when money is already being spent on the Iona project.

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver politicians call for federal auditor general to investigate construction overruns'

“The public, at least at this stage and probably for some time to come, are going to be asked to approve these types of $60-million consultant contracts in the absence of having all the information,” he said.

“Nobody believes that figure of $9.9 billion,”  he added.

“We know from the former chair, George Harvie, (who) publicly stated in an open meeting that the costs had already escalated to $12 billion and were going up $1 billion every six months.”

But Metro Vancouver staff say spending the money sooner than later will be prudent.

General manager of project delivery Cheryl Nelms said every year of delay on the project increases costs by as much as $300 million.

The regional district has set a target of 2039 to complete the sewage plant upgrades.