A consulting company overseeing Metro Vancouver's waste-to-energy procurement process has withdrawn after the regional district decided the firm's role was tainted by the emergence of an email showing "unacceptable bias" from a staff member.
Metro officials agreed HDR Corp.'s $1.9-million contract, which was up for likely renewal at the end of December, should end because of a May 18 email from a senior HDR staff member to a Metro manager.
"The email, if read on its face, seemed to indicate the possibility of a bias towards certain technologies," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who chairs Metro's zero waste committee.
He would not say if the email showed preference towards mass-burn incineration or to one of a variety of other technologies that could be used in a new plant to burn 370,000 tonnes per year of Metro garbage.
Brodie said the email didn't come to the attention of senior Metro managers until early November but officials then took "immediate action."
He said Metro's procurement process – now underway – was not compromised or inappropriately designed as a result of HDR's work, adding the HDR staffer who sent the email didn't have any technical involvement in the work.
Even a perception of bias couldn't be allowed, he added.
"We're under an obligation to have a fair and unbiased and complete and transparent process," Brodie said.
He said a new consulting firm will be found to oversee the process.
Four independent experts have been selected to help guide the process and HDR was to oversee them.
Brodie wasn't able to say how much money or time the change might cost taxpayers.
Metro is now inviting firms to propose technologies and later in 2013 it will ask short-listed firms and other property owners to propose sites. The region intends to send garbage to a new waste-to-energy plant or plants starting in 2018 and end shipments to the Cache Creek landfill.
A statement issued by HDR said the email could be perceived as attempting to influence the procurement process but adds that did not happen.
"The process was not influenced but we want to avoid any appearance of impropriety, so we asked Metro Vancouver to end our contract in the project’s best interest."
Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) politicians have repeatedly accused Metro Vancouver of being biased in favour of building a new incinerator in the region – where they say it would worsen air pollution in the Valley – rather than fairly considering alternatives.
"Something just seems really fishy here," Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross said.
She said she raised concerns about HDR with Metro months ago after they learned former Metro waste policy manager Ken Carrusca now works for the firm as its solid waste manager for western Canada.
The ex-manager had been involved in previous Metro-led consultations about waste-to-energy that FVRD reps charged were pro-incineration. HDR said Carrusca was not the sender of the email.
"We had a concern he was so closely tied to Metro Vancouver and this was supposed to be an independent firm with fresh eyes on the subject," Ross said.
She said it's frustrating Metro Vancouver accuses Valley politicians of playing on emotion rather than science, adding she believes their criticisms that incinerators are unsafe and likely unnecessary will be vindicated.
"We will prove them wrong in the end," Ross said. "But my fear is ultimately, they'll still build these things."
ABOVE RIGHT: Former Metro Vancouver Integrated Planning Division Manager Ken Carrusca.