A municipally-owned and operated asphalt plant, an idea which has been brought up in council several times, may well help reduce the cost of paving for the city.
Coun. Brian Skakun said the City of Prince George is looking at the price it pays for asphalt, which is higher than what is paid in the Okanagan by 30 per cent.
Skakun said he is researching how municipally owned asphalt plants work, particularly in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. With some information pending on other cities, he was intrigued at the success of Vancouver’s plant, which has been in operation for 60 years.
Vancouver has a self sufficient utility that pays for itself. They put no tax money into it. They borrowed money to set it up. The whole mortgage of the plant and the operation of it is paid for by the plant through earning funds by selling asphalt to consumers. Additional expenses in Vancouver include materials being barged in and out, and, after a decision to upgrade the plant came into effect, more land purchased at about $750,000 per acre plus $15 million for the plant, all expenses the City of Prince George would not incur.
“We could do it at half the price with a payback in several years,” he said. “We can’t raise taxes to pave more roads. Is there a time we need to have a discussion in the community about producing out own asphalt and paying substantially less for it?”
Currently the city shells out $147 per tonne for asphalt.
“With only two asphalt companies in Prince George, we pay quite a bit more than in other communities. There needs to be more competition. Taxpayers in other communities benefited by having their own facilities.”
He said Edmonton looked at combination of things. They run the plant more in winter, reaping cost savings, and do potholes in summer. For cold asphalt the city pays $700 tonne to fill potholes in winter and early spring.
“Think if you look at what we’re going to be paying in the next 10, 15 years. It could be anywhere from $70 to $100 million for paving in the community. Is there a way to do it more efficiently? The whole exercise is can we to it cheaper, with better control over quality, cost and inflation? We can’t simply say we have to raise taxes three or four per cent over a number of years. People know we have to fix the roads, but they want it done now and they want it sustainably and done efficiently.”
Skakun added there are a number of other ideas to explore that might help curb the exorbitant price of asphalt.
“Will people come if the city supplies gravel for a temporary asphalt plant? We don’t know if federal green money is available but we may be able to recycle our own asphalt to reduce our costs as well. We need to explore all these things if we want to reduce costs. There is a number of things to look at,” he said. “What if we could reduce asphalt costs by 20 or 30 percent? We could put down another $2 million in pavement without having to raise taxes.”
Skakun said he talked to the mayor who is going to talk to administration to try to figure this out, and added there is interest on the part of some councillors as well.
“If we don’t do anything about this in the next couple of years and just ignore it, does that mean we’ve lost $7 million worth of asphalt we could have put in roads?”