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Creating Opportunity Out of Crisis


Sterling Zeran, Chief Administrative Officer, Town of New Tecumseth
Ed Houghton, Manager, Collingwood Public Utilities Commission
Rick Russell, Partnering Facilitator, Agree Inc.

In March of 1996 the Toronto Star ran a story which read "Epidemic in Collingwood". Ed Houghton, Manager of the Town of Collingwood's Public Utilities Commission recalls tourists and cottagers believed townspeople were dying in the streets of Collingwood. On March 11, 1996 the Medical Officer of Health issued an advisory requiring that all potable water be boiled before consumption. Although the situation was not nearly so dire as the Star story suggested, the town was facing a crisis of confidence in its water supply.

The Town turned to Zenon Environmental, a Canadian technology firm based in Burlington, Ontario and signed a purchase order for a state of the art membrane filtration system on April 1, 1996. Zenon, working with the Town's design consultants and general contractor, built a showpiece facility which it now uses to train staff and showcase their technology for interested buyers around the world.

Months later, on his way down to Florida for a vacation, Ed Houghton learned that Honda Motor Corporation had decided to expand its Alliston, Ontario plant in New Tecumseth. He was aware that the town's water supply came from wells that tapped into the Nottawasaga aquifer, which lacked the capacity to provide quality water in the quantities Honda would require.

Seeing an opportunity to use more of Collingwood's capacity, Houghton contacted Sterling Zeran, New Tecumseth's Town Manager and CAO. All he asked was that Zeran and Town Councilor Aidan Whalen hear him out. The rest, as they say, is history.

What Houghton and Consultant John Thompson were suggesting was a pipeline to run from Georgian Bay to Alliston. In the intervening time the project experienced a "roller coaster ride". The Environmental Assessment required New Tecumseth to explore all possible sources to identify which would be least harmful to the environment. On several occasions it looked like the idea was dead. Ultimately, Zeran recalls it came down to perception.

"The only real alternatives were either to bring surface (lake) water in from either Lake Simcoe or Georgian Bay. Lake Simcoe is shallower and in the warm summer months can be susceptible to water temperature change and resultant algae bloom. The public wanted the cooler, bluer water of Georgian Bay".

The pipeline had a large price tag attached to it. Estimated to cost between $35 and $37 million dollars, New Tecumseth went looking for partners and an innovative construction delivery strategy. It found its partners in the Collingwood PUC, the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), the Province and its designer / contractor SNC Lavalin / Con Drain. After bidding the job, a contract price of about $28 million was arrived at.

The delivery strategy was two fold. First the project would be constructed using a design / build and operate approach, with a finance element, partnering with the private sector. Secondly, the project would employ Partnering, a team building, joint goal setting and conflict management process designed to build strong relationships and a win / win approach to problem solving.

Both municipalities had had positive experiences with Partnering before. Collingwood with its water filtration facility and New Tecumseth with sewage treatment and road building projects. They called on Agree, a Canadian firm located in Dundas, Ontario to design the process and facilitate a day and a half workshop.

"Partnering lets you get to know people better, and understand how they do business", observes Zeran. "New Tecumseth believes that for design / build work, Partnering is an absolute requirement".

Houghton believes the tight time parameters of the project made Partnering a must - "It all has to go so, quickly - there is no time for bickering or blaming. The dispute resolution process is the key, getting things resolved early while they are still manageable."

"In the workshop you get to see people you are going to be working with in a relaxed environment, get to know who they really are. When conflict comes up, and on a large job like this it will, you will go to them sooner and nip problems in the bud. We support it wholeheartedly and encourage others to try it!"

Both Sterling Zeran and Ed Houghton like the kind of win / win climate Partnering encourages. It is the way their organizations want to do business and Partnering establishes a climate and an expectation that Zeran says, "prevents the partners from drawing a line in the sand, and keeps them talking constructively".

The construction phase of the work is just beginning, but a lot of adversity has already been overcome. Houghton sums up the partnership's philosophy this way: "to survive you need to put your ego in your pocket and work hard to see your municipality prosper and be enhanced. Partnering gives you a process to catch the egos before they get out of hand and keep the emphasis on the task at hand."

If you want to learn more about the pipeline project or Partnering call:

Sterling Zeran 705-435-6219
Ed Houghton 705-445-7885
Rick Russell 905-627-558

 
Additional Partnering Information
Experience facilitating partnering Workshops
Creating Opportunity out of Crisis
Put your Project into the Partnering Picture!
Accolades from our Clients

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