WHEREAS municipalities across Alberta have faced rising engineering costs for capital projects in recent years; and
WHEREAS municipalities lack mechanisms or powers to ensure engineering firms are accountable for their designs and project supervision work; and
WHEREAS online reviews, ratings and experiences available for many consumer goods and services are not available for engineering firms; and
WHEREAS this lack of a rating or review system for engineering firms forces municipalities to incur significant risk when hiring engineers; and
WHEREAS engineering services are often among the most expensive third-party services used by municipalities; and
WHEREAS engineering firms have considerable leeway and latitude to design infrastructure projects; and
WHEREAS municipalities have limited capacity to determine whether engineering designs are sound and cost effective, unless another engineering firm is hired to review them; and
WHEREAS hiring a second engineering firm adds considerable expense to the project and still does not guarantee success; and
WHEREAS many municipalities have experienced questionable engineering practices resulting in excessive expenses with no satisfactory recourse; and
WHEREAS due to the difficulties of recovering expenses for poor-quality engineering services, municipalities often have no choice but to write off such expenses;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) develop a rating system for firms that provide engineering services to municipalities; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA seek to collaborate with Alberta Municipalities in the development of the rating system to ensure it meets the needs of all municipalities in Alberta.
The County of Northern Lights began the largest project in its history in 2018 which entailed the design and installation of a regional waterline from the Town of Peace River water treatment plant, to the Hamlet of Dixonville, two water truckfills and the conversion of the Dixonville water treatment plant to a distribution only and truckfill facility. The project was approximately 60 km in length and would eventually provide much needed treated water to residents along the line. The project was part of a Water for Life project which saw the Town receive funding for upgrades to their water treatment plant. The waterline itself was the third phase of that funding agreement.
The County used a prequalification process, led by contracted engineers, to ensure competent contractors would construct the project. Throughout the project, engineering fees were increased to provide additional onsite supervision of the project. At the end of the project, following the arbitration clause in the construction project, an arbitrator awarded an additional $16 million to the contractor, on a contract that was originally bid at $28.7 million.
The arbitrator stated that the project, as designed, was “unconstructable” causing additional costs to the contractor. The County is now in a legal battle with the engineering group and their subcontractor who both deny any responsibility for the issues on the contract.
The County of Northern Lights believes that a provincial rating system, adopted by all municipalities, would provide more accountability than one adopted by one municipality and engineering firms would be rated on every project based upon previous design failures, legal battles or other matters.
Alberta Transportation has a rating system that is utilized for engineers and a similar rating program could be adopted by municipalities. It is suggested that such a rating would be based upon the experiences of other municipalities rather than technical or qualitative metrics.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.