Harbour Repair Cost Problem

As we heard over the last couple of years, Cobourg’s Harbour is in urgent need of repair – that is, the harbour walls and the breakwaters need a whole lot of work.  A consultant has done the design work and the estimated cost for Phase one of the work was put in the 2022 budget and tenders issued.  Specifically, Phase one was to rehabilitate the walls on the north and east side of the marina basin as well as the fuel dock. However, all 6 bids responding to the tender were well over the amount in the budget – the budget is $5M and the lowest bid was $7M so Staff are recommending that the tender be cancelled and that the Phase one work be broken down into smaller sub-phases.  For example, a new tender could get quotes for just the East basin wall – and this would be inside the approved $5M budget.

Staff Recommendation

“Staff can rescope, adjust the phasing, and retender this work to ensure competitive pricing within the 2022 budget. Reconstructing this area would maintain project momentum and have minimal negative impact on the 2023 waterfront season, if any.  In addition, staff will begin a prequalification process for future phases of the works to streamline approvals while maintaining quality and competitive pricing.”

“The following table summarizes the 2022 Phase 1 budget, updated Phase 1 cost estimate as of August 2022, and bids received under CO-22-22 rounded to the nearest $10,000 and include corrections for arithmetical errors submitted on bids (listed in alphabetical order).”

2022 Phase 1 Budget $4,950,000
August 2022 Updated Phase 1 Cost Estimate $6,630,000
Bids Received
Bronte Construction $7,580,000
East Elgin Concrete Forming $10,450,000
Enscon Ltd $7,720,000
Fidelity Engineering and Construction $9,820,000
Louis W Bray Construction $11,910,000
Seawaves Development Services $7,090,000

If Council approves this approach at the September 26 CoW meeting, a new tender can be issued and hopefully work start this winter. (It was originally scheduled for September 2022.) However, it’s clear that we can expect the full project to be considerably more expensive than the original estimates.   The original estimates were $5M for phase one, $2.3M for phase 2A (East Breakwater) and $5.5M for Phase 2B (West Breakwater).

The good news is that the large number of bids suggests that “there is high industry interest in the type and scope of work” and new bids for phase 1a should be competitive.

All this work needs to be completed before the start of any of the proposed work on the revitalization of the East Pier – scheduled for 2024 at $3.6M.

This is the second of 4 posts reporting on the Sept 26 CoW meeting – watch for Parts 3 and 4.  Part one was “End of Year Staff Reports”.


Previous Reports on Cobourg News Blog

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23 September 2022 7:35 am

Perhaps part of the problem is a shortage of workers. Have you been to a Tim Horton’s recently with an open drive through and locked doors? A customer asked me about somebody knocking on her door asking to repave her driveway (possible scam). She checked the company website and learned they are not taking on new contracts until next year due to a shortage of labour. Repairing the harbour requires knowledge and big equipment. There are only a few companies capable of doing the work. They can increase prices if they have lots of work with a limited labour force. This could explain, in part, why the bids are so much greater than the budget. The lowest 3 bids are all about the same and not too out of line with the updated cost estimate. How much extra will it cost to wait or break the project into smaller pieces? If we want the harbour we are going to have to pay to fix it.

22 September 2022 7:22 pm

I don’t mind a re-tendering process supplemented with some changes in scope. If the tender is cancelled I foresee an additional decade delay in getting to it, to many softer issues to be dealt with, priorities as set by Staff and more politically attractive. The low bid is 40% greater than the budget; in addition the ‘low’ bid is probably a low bid to get the job – hopefully the bidder has segmented the bid response into logical deliverables, better for Staff to determine perhaps a reduced scope. Overall, in my experience, there is probably another 40% to be added due to problems, inflation, scope changes, low-balled estimates of the work to be done and the forever ‘contingencies’. The Town needs to set its sights to move, whole hardheartedly, to solve this decades-old infrastructure problem. Final comment – seems that the consultant employed to prepare this tender apparently had some rose coloured glasses as I find a 40% estimate-delta a bit to much given their expertise.

Last edited 4 months ago by Gerinator
Bryan H.
22 September 2022 11:51 am

The town should recognize the Cobourg Harbour was once the foundation of our town when people travelled by boat and commerce was done largely by shipping from/to Cobourg through the St. Lawrence Seaway & Great Lakes was an integral part of the community. Those days are long gone. However, the harbour is still a focal point of our town beside of our wonderful sandy beach and boardwalk which we ourselves and visitors flock to. It’s still a valid foundation block of our town! I’m a retiree and live in Cobourg, I’m not a pleasure boater, however recognition should be given that harbour is one of the nicer and safer harbours in Lake Ontario, it is ideally located mid-point along the length of the Canadian shoreline of Lake Ontario. This geographical advantage is recognized by many including the Canadian Coast Guard who have for years set up a station here in our harbour and are presently reinvesting in building a new station on the east pier. Town council agreed & hired a consultant to do the design work and estimate the cost for the repairs. Since estimated costing for the repairs were drastically low, one should question the quality of the consultant’s estimation & maybe even other aspects of its report.I wonder if council ever consults, or compares itself to other similar size geographical lakeside communities (of 10-30 thousand residents) in the Great Lakes which have similar needs for maintenance and design work? If someone else has done something similar why reinvent the wheel? For example, I recently visited Port Elgin (aka: Saugeen Shores) along the shores of Lake Huron, they have a similar population base as us, geographically similar in the sense of having a beautiful sandy beach, boardwalk and municipal harbour for pleasure craft. They started their reconstruction work… Read more »

Reply to  Bryan H.
22 September 2022 4:32 pm

i don’t think there a job coming in under budget this year , most of the trades are getting a $3 per hour increase this year and the cost fuel is way up
no one could anticipate these kinds of increases

Reply to  Bryan H.
22 September 2022 8:09 pm

Cobourg is nice. But i think you will find plenty of boaters that actually travel this lake will say there are better . We have a relativly small quaint location but its un able to accomodate many of the larger yatchs out there and we have very few attractions to keep them here .
This stands true for the towns them selves
Just take a jaunt to Bobcaygen . Portperry. Huntsville . Cambridge and you will realize just how far Cobourg s Downtown has fallen behind .is Political will and drive holding us back ???

Reply to  sandpiper
22 September 2022 8:55 pm


You are correct about Cobourg not having any real attraction to make Cobourg a “cruising” destination. Many of the cruising visitors to Cobourg are just passing through. Cobourg is a convenient stopover point for boats on their way to/from Toronto, Whitby, Kingston, Trent canal, Bay of Quinte

Larger boats (55ft+) can and do stop in Cobourg periodically. It’s just that there are not many of them sailing Lake Ontario. Marina tourist is never going to save Cobourg’s downtown. That myth died some years ago.

The marina is a place for the locals (45 min drive) to keep their “cottage on the water”

As a Town business unit, the marina is reasonably well run and is self sufficient (so far). Compare this to Trenton, opened in 2016, port Trenton has always relied on a substantial taxpayer subsidy, about $1.4M+ in 2020.

Last edited 4 months ago by Bryan
22 September 2022 11:32 am

Has anyone been able to confirm that the Green space will be retained in its as is entire area and condition or is it to become parking
Now that the town has lost control of all the rest of the parking lots with in walking distance of the beach ??

Reply to  sandpiper
25 September 2022 12:12 pm

By lost control I assume you mean the actual owners of the vacant land are planning to develop it into residential space?

22 September 2022 8:54 am

Between the Harbou, CIP, and our uniformed people, this town is going broke keeping in mind that Staff, Police & Firemen will want wage settlements in the future equal to the current “cost-of-living” increase and the resulting increase in their defined pension plans. The retired people of Cobourg, and we are I believe almost the majority, can’t afford the inflationary pressures of the day. Shall we change to a Volunteer Fire Department like Port Hope…it must be deemed just as good as we have in Cobourg because house insurance costs are about equal in both towns. How can we keep the budget without the big increases that council will be looking for. Kill the harbour project…how many people from Cobourg actually have a boat in the water there? If we want the basics, we can’t afford the frills…plain & simple. I hate to see what the town council talk is on purchasing the Fed jail property on King St east…can’t afford it right now for sure.

Reply to  cornbread
22 September 2022 7:33 pm

In my opinion, collectively, Protective Services will bankrupt Cobourg. Their increases are beyond inflation, compounded and are given, without prejudice by the Boards, e.g. Police Service, which are outside the control of Municipalities.

SW Buyer
Reply to  Gerinator
22 September 2022 8:34 pm


I agree that on paper (and frequently in fact), the police services board is outside the control of the municipality. However, there is a way to achieve control.

The Cobourg Police Services board has 5 members who are supposed to be independent…. but may not be.

  • Two are political patronage appointments appointed by the Attorney General on the recommendation of the local MPP (Piccini)
  • Two are Town council members: Mayor and a selected Council member
  • A Cobourg resident appointed by Council.

In my view, if the town’s selection process was done “properly”, the Town would have 3 of the 5 votes and therefor control.

It needs a mayor with good leadership skills to do this and we don’t have one. Hence the problem.
The appointed Council member is known for lackluster performance (IMO). Perhaps he also naps at the board meetings, just as he has been observed doing at Council meetings.

Three likeminded board members, with strong leadership, could control a police services board such as the CPSB.

Reply to  SW Buyer
23 September 2022 2:25 pm

SWB – thanks for the break out of the participants. I note that 4 of the 5 positions are ‘political’ seats held by persons who are guided by politics and its potential fallout should there be a ‘conflict’. I’m not hopeful.

Reply to  cornbread
23 September 2022 6:16 am

Give the Harbour in its entirety to the province Govt
The town of Cobourg has proven it can’t handle it

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Jones
23 September 2022 11:19 am

What makes you think the province will take it, if you offer it to them?

22 September 2022 8:46 am

`dispite numerous inquiries from local residents and Condo owners as to what provisions and assurances have been made to protect or even compensate for damages caused by the Pile driving and vibration. No answers have been provided by the town infact last month at an open house Mrs Behann pronounced the whole matter was dead ?? Who is running this show ?

22 September 2022 8:37 am

The lowest bidder is not always the best choice, scope creep and hidden costs often arise with lowest bid contractors. Also, ultimately breaking the project into parts does not necessarily reduce the overall cost and can ultimately increase the costs. The problems seems to be that the town under budgeted the project.

21 September 2022 2:11 pm

Retendering seems to me to be a waste of resources for both staff and the contractors. Retender only if it is believed that a lower total price can be obtained.

It costs time and money for the Town to re-tender and the same for the contractors to prepare a bid. Some may decide not to bid and others may increase the price because of the re-bid and the smaller project size.

The phase 1 work can be done in several “time segments” starting into the fall and extending through the winter. The additional $2M+ cost could be approved in the 2023 budget.

This assumes that the lowest bid passes staff’s evaluation of the bids.

Better to work with the tender winner to change the work schedule to accommodate the funding

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Bryan
21 September 2022 3:56 pm

Is this another example of circumventing the Lame Duck rules by redefining what is to be done?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
21 September 2022 4:28 pm

I don’t think so. It is simple spreading the work over two budget periods. The estimate was made over a year ago and the Town has a propensity for underestimating. If not for lame duck, a bid would have been accepted and the overspend magically funded from some reserve or another.
In this case, the bid could be accepted and the “overspend” avoided by scheduling the work for the following year and the new budget period.
This is the pragmatic solution. It avoids the expense of retendering/bidding for both the Town and the contractors. Retendering is just as likely to get the same bids or higher and perhaps fewer of them.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Bryan
21 September 2022 6:48 pm

Yes, they could contract for only the portion of the work that comes under the 2022 budget provision. But my understanding of the Lame Duck rules is that the town cannot commit to over budget spending (>$50K). If correct, they cannot guarantee to award the contract for the rest of the work to the same bidder or even to any bidder in 2023.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
23 September 2022 7:37 am

Can we wait until after the election to make a decision to avoid the Lame Duck rules?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Kevin
23 September 2022 8:33 am

Kevin, I think that we need to wait until well after the election to approve the contract. I don’t believe that anything can be approved until the new Council is sworn in and has had the necessary sessions to vote on things. This is usually early December but I haven’t seen the dates for this term of Council.

Reply to  Bryan
21 September 2022 6:09 pm

I agree with Bryan, surely the Town could ask the successful bidder – yet to be awarded if they could see the Gannt chart for the project and then decide which parts of the project they would like to fund first. After all the bidder would rather have the money in hand as well as performing the work in ‘mini-projects’ than lose the opportunity to stay on a multi-year project.

BTW I would tell Fidelity to sharpen their pencils if they want the ‘local’ work to be done by ‘local’ contractors!

Last edited 4 months ago by ben