Canadian Consulting Engineer

News (October 01, 2003)

October 1, 2003
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

HISTORYTrestle bridges destroyed in B.C. firesA piece of Canadian engineering history went up in flames in early September, when forest fires destroyed most of the 18 trestle bridges in the Myra Canyo...


Trestle bridges destroyed in B.C. fires

A piece of Canadian engineering history went up in flames in early September, when forest fires destroyed most of the 18 trestle bridges in the Myra Canyon near Kelowna, B.C. Twelve creosote-soaked timber structures fell victim to the flames, and two with steel support structures were damaged.

Designed by railway engineer Andrew McCulloch, the bridges were built between 1912 and 1916 to carry the Kettle Valley Railway from Midway to Hope through the Okanagan Mountain Park. Some were as long as 150 metres long and over 30 metres high. The terrain made it one of the most difficult routes in the world to construct.

The last train ran on the line in 1972, but the bridges were restored and maintained by volunteers, and they became a popular recreational trail for hikers and bicyclists. Trails BC is trying to raise the estimated $30 million needed to replace the structures. Canada’s Heritage Minister Sheila Copps has indicated some support.


Public-private partnerships cause controversy

The first hospitals to be built and operated in Ontario under public-private partnership “P3” arrangements have become mired in controversy. The same consortium — Healthcare Infrastructure Group — has won the contract for both large projects.

At the end of September news leaked out that the consortium had won the competition to build and design the $100-million new Royal Ottawa Hospital. The Healthcare Infrastructure Group includes Ellis Don Construction, but there was no word which consulting engineers were involved. SNC-Lavalin was in a competing consortia that failed to obtain the contract.

The 400,000-s.f., 180-bed Ottawa hospital would replace the existing mental health care hospital which was built in 1910 as a tuberculosis sanitorium.

In May, the Healthcare Infrastructure Group was also chosen by the Ontario government for the $350-million William Osler Health Care Centre in Brampton, northwest of Toronto. The consortium was supposed to design and finance the 608-bed acute care facility, and would recover its costs by leasing the building to the hospital. It was also to provide ongoing building maintenance and provide services such as laundry, food, and security. By the end of September, though, there was a press embargo on information about the Brampton project and the contracts had become a major issue in the provincial election.

Unions and others argue that public-private partnerships shortchange the public health system because corporations have to add on charges to make a profit. However, the P3 advocates say the private sector can build and operate facilities more efficiently. They argue that outsourcing building services leaves hospitals free to concentrate on medical issues.

At least one other province — British Columbia — is in the throes of organizing P3 contracts to build health care facilities. A competition is under way for the $210-million Abbotsford Hospital and Cancer Centre project in the Fraser Valley. Four consortia have been invited to submit proposals, including the Healthcare Infrastructure Group. Another competition is being held for the $90-million Academic Ambulatory Care Centre on the site of the Vancouver General Hospital.


North Battleford cleans up its act

By George Peer, P.Eng.

Northwest of Saskatoon, the city of North Battleford is going to spend more than $15 million on a new sewage treatment plant. The project follows in the wake of a parasite outbreak in 2001 that was suspected to have originated in the city’s water supply. Hundreds of residents fell ill from ingesting a parasite known as cryptosporidium.

North Battleford mayor Wayne Ray says most of the money will have to be borrowed for the project, which is set to start construction next spring, providing approval is given by the Saskatchewan Department of the Environment.

Construction will involve two major components: the 10,000 m3/day plant itself, and a 7.5 km “transfer line” that will connect the existing plant with the new one. Plant designer Stantec Consulting (Tom Mercer, P.Eng.) of Saskatoon was to recommend whether the transfer line should be a forcemain or a gravity pipe.

The new plant, which will be constructed on a 650-acre site in a southeastern sector of the city, will include a 1-km outfall line.

In the meantime, the city has been taking other steps to improve the quality of its drinking water. Since the 2001 parasite problem emerged, about $1 million has been spent on the city’s surface water treatment plant. Ultraviolet disinfection was introduced, and a new laboratory and control room built. Another $800,000 is being spent on a manganese removal system for the city’s groundwater plant.

As well, a $150,000 program to improve the city’s existing sewage treatment plant is nearing an end. MR2 McDonald & Associates (Roger McDonald, P.Eng.) of Regina, is involved in all three renovation projects.


Wind not a panacea

Re. editorial Comment, “Where’s Canada’s Wind,” (August-September 2003). I’m not sure what you mean by governments subsidizing nuclear and fossil power. A lot of things are subsidized, including milk and eggs. Wind power in Alberta is certainly subsidized by all three levels of government, who are paying a premium for what is supposed to be wind-generated electrical energy.

I support the Canadian Wind Energy Association but I would never suggest replacing fossil fuel plants with wind driven generators. You just have to go to, look at Current Supply and Demand and you can see what wind generation is occurring. As I write this at 11 a.m. no wind-powered electricity is being generated. So for every MW of wind energy connected to the system there had better be one MW of something else, or what you experienced in Ontario a few weeks ago would be a regular occurrence.

I am also not sure how to take the Dutch expert [cited in the article]. I know the wind blows in Holland off the North Sea and maybe it blows more than half the time, but I seriously doubt that paybacks are in the order of a quarter to half a year. Also, 20 year lifetimes for the machines? Maybe it’s something like the woodsman’s axe, where upon retirement the woodsman noted he had used the same axe for all of 40 years. It’s just that he had replaced the handle 35 times and the head eight times.

I have supported wind energy for over 30 years but don’t believe it is going to solve all of our problems or even very many. It has lots of drawbacks, including the aesthetic one. I’ve been to Palm Springs and Crows Nest, and I am afraid I agree with a lot of people that the turbines in large numbers are an eyesore — just like cell towers.

And I do look forward to your magazine.

Andy Jones, P.Eng


Subsidies unfair

I cannot understand your statement (Comment, August-September 2003): “As for governments, instead of subsidizing nuclear and fossil power, as is happening with the artificial price-capping in Ontario, they would do better to throw taxpayers’ money to the wind.”

Ontario’s artificial price cap does not subsidize anybody except Ontario’s hydro consumers (homes and small businesses). It prevents Ontario Power Generation (the biggest electricity provider in Ontario) from earning more than $43/MWhe — hardly a subsidy! Other generators earn whatever the market allows (often over $43/MWhe), but, if the average price goes over that level, the taxpayers pay a subsidy to the consumers (usually the same people as the taxpayers) to bring the price down to $43/MWhe. Thus the crown-owned corporation cannot earn over $43/MWhe, but private industry can!

Wind power will play an increasing role as an electricity source, but has definite limits. The Cowley Ridge wind plant in Alberta, for example, has a total capacity of 47.4 MWe, and will “produce more than 134,007,500 kilowatt hours of electricity per year” (from a recent Cowley Ridge brochure). That’s an impressive amount of electricity (0.027% of Canada’s electri
cal consumption in 2000), but a capacity factor of only 32.3%. That’s the biggest problem with wind power — it only generates when the wind blows, and one needs an equivalent back-up generation source for when the turbines are becalmed. Interestingly, during the past few weeks when Europe was beset with a heat wave, the massive investment in wind power did little to help because there wasn’t much wind.

Morgan Brown, P.Eng.

Deep River, Ontario.

Wind to make hydrogen and oxygen

I enjoyed your remarks re. wind generation in the Comment, March/April and August/September issues. It should be pointed out that wind and solar energy are preventing heat pollution as well as chemical pollution.

We really need a drastic improvement of both generation AND transmission of electrical energy. Wind generated electricity could be used to produce hydrogen and oxygen. Both should be transmitted by pipeline to generate electricity near the centres of industry. This system would almost automatically have a storage capacity for off-peak generated power. It would be far more reliable and less accident prone to weather conditions and other failures than our current transmission and distribution systems. Recent experience indicates that the reliability of transmission systems is more important than efficiency.

I believe some research has already been done [in this area.] The most logical pioneers of the system would be existing suppliers of natural gas.

Max Neuburger, P.Eng.

Downsview, Ontario


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