Aquiris wins Brussels North
- From: Vol 2, Issue 6 (June 2001)
- Category: General
- Region: Europe
- Country: Belgium
- Related Companies: Aquiris, Bechtel, Besix, Excosor, Hochtief, Hydronor, Libost, Marubeni, Merlin, Ondeo, RWE, Saur/Bouygues, Seghers, SHW, Stibbe, Tractebel, United Utilities and Veolia Environnement (formerly Vivendi Environnement)
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The Aquiris consortium, headed by Vivendi Water, has been selected to develop the much-needed Brussels North wastewater treatment plant. However, one of the losing contenders for the €370 million scheme has launched a legal challenge to the decision claiming that the winning offer did not meet tender specifications.
The client, the Brussels Capital Region, is baffled by the claim from Hydronor – a consortium linking Ondeo, Tractebel and Ondeo Degrémont – that the wet air oxidation process for sludge treatment, which formed part of the Aquiris offer violated a tender requirement not to use any form of sludge incineration.
“I don’t understand their claim,” said Marie Derick, water adviser to Didier Gosuin, environment minister in the Brussels Regional Government. “It is obvious that they have no chance of winning on the strength of this allegation.”
While Hydronor is suing the Brussels Region, Aquiris – which includes Japan’s Marubeni and a range of French and Belgian companies – has launched its own action against Hydronor insisting that the latter’s allegations were “false and intended only to eliminate Aquiris from the competition.”
The legal activity should not affect the Brussels North scheme, which is being established on a BOOT basis and will be one of the world’s biggest privately developed WwTPs. It will serve a population of 1.1 million and have a maximum flow for full treatment of 8.2 m3/sec. The maximum flow for part-treatment (i.e. pre-treatment and initial clarification only) will be 16.4m3/ sec. Flows above that level will be diverted into the River Senne without treatment.
The consultant for Brussels North is Exlime, a joint venture linking France’s Merlin (the lead partner) and Excoser and Libost, both of Belgium. The Brussels law firm of Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot (which this year shortened its name to Stibbe) is working as the Brussels Capital Region’s legal and financial adviser for the project.
The plant will occupy a 7.5 hectare site in the Neder-Over-Heembeek municipality, on the northern edge of the Brussels region on the right bank of the Canale Maritime which extends broadly north-south through the Belgian capital. In addition to the plant itself, the project includes construction of a 6.8km wastewater collection system which will run along the left bank of the canal before crossing beneath it to reach the treatment plant. Also included is the connection of a number of other sewerage pipes, including some from Flanders.
Brussels and its region are situated in the drainage basin of the River Senne, which has been designated as an ecologically sensitive zone. Until the inauguration of the Brussels South WwTP last August (see GWI, Vol. 1, Issue 3, p.1), all the city’s wastewater was discharged without treatment directly into the Senne.
The Senne hydrographic basin has three sub-basins – north, south and Woluwe. The Brussels South plant, sited in Anderlecht on the city’s southern edge, serves 360,000 people in the southern third of the city and in a neighbouring part of the Flanders Region and has an average daily dry weather flow (DWF) of 65,100m3. It handles discharges from the south sub-basin. Flows from the north and Woluwe sub-basins will go to the Brussels North plant. In all, Brussels North will treat flows from 15 Brussels districts and seven neighbouring municipalities in Flanders.
In November 1998, five groups were shortlisted for the scheme and bids were invited in April 1999, with a 17 November 1999 deadline. Apart from Aquiris and Hydronor, the shortlisted groups were Bouygues, of France; BSUB (linking Besix and Seghers, both of Belgium, the UK’s United Utilities and Bechtel of the US); and a group linking Hochtief, RWE and SHW, all of Germany. Four days before the deadline for bid submissions, the Hochtief group withdrew. “The four offers were all good and that’s why it took so long for us to evaluate them,” said Derick.
One reason for Aquiris’ success, announced on 15 May, was the effectiveness of its proprietary Athos wet air oxidation process, a non-combustion on-site sludge treatment technique. “This produces a final residue which is inert. Therefore, the volume of materials which must be transported from the plant is very low
compared to volumes offered in the other bids,” said Derick. “For us, this is very important because it means fewer lorries, and because we have no landfills in Brussels where residues could be dumped.” As the residue is inert, there will be no need for it to be taken for final incineration elsewhere, as was the case with the other bids.
The tender stipulated final effluent quality standards in line with those called for in the European Commission’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD). For nitrogen, however, a higher standard was required in order to compensate for the lack of tertiary treatment at the Brussels South plant.
“The directive says that either you must treat nitrogen at all plants, or you must achieve a combined reduction of 75% at all plants taken together,” explained Derick.
Aquiris will use Vivendi Water’s proprietary technologies including the Azenit biological process, which ensures efficient removal of nitrogen and phosphorus while reducing carbon pollution, and the Actiflo process, a means of accelerating stormwater settling using a ballasted flocculation technique.
A 22-month period has been earmarked for studies and obtaining necessary permits, including approval from the Institut Bruxellois de Gestion de l’Environnement (IBGE), an agency of the Brussels Capital Region government. Construction will take 36 months and commissioning is scheduled for the first half of 2006. The plant will be covered and sound-proofed.
The client will pay nothing until the end of the first year of operation. Aquiris will operate the plant for 20 years, foreach of which it will receive an annuity of €49.58 million. It will also finance the plant and the main sewer system.
Brussels has lagged far behind the rest of Europe in the development of sewerage facilities and last July the Commission threatened Belgium with proceedings in the European Court for breaching the UWWTD which required all European cities to be fully served by effective sewerage systems by the end of 1998.
The delay stemmed largely fro m administrative changes in Belgium. “When the Brussels Region was created in 1989, there were just a few collectors. There were no treatment plants and there were no funds earmarked for sewerage,” recalls Marie Derick.
“Brussels South came first because it was a smaller project and therefore less expensive, and because it had been the most studied,” she continued. “But we had to create a strong and capable ministry. We had to restructure the whole administration.”
Funding constraints were the main reason for opting for a BOOT formula for Brussels North but managerial simplicity was another important consideration. Brussels South was developed conventionally but it took longer than anticipated because of complications arising from the division of responsibilities between various contractors.
“So many people were involved that, in terms of responsibilities, it was very hard for us to manage,” said Derick. “We wanted to avoid that on Brussels North. For us, to have one company responsible for studies, construction and operation was crucial. They have the responsibility and we pay if the plant is correctly operated. ”
The Brussels Capital Region government formally decided on the BOOT approach for Brussels North in 1997. “We had to select legal and technical consultants and they and the environment ministry had to write the tender, which was time consuming. We then had to evaluate the offers,” said Derick. “We had to do a really huge amount of work before being able to designate the project leader. I think we did it quite quickly. We didn’t waste time, that’s for sure.”
AS GWI WENT to press, the official representative of the Council of State ruled in favour of the Brussels Capital Region, judging that Hydronor’s appeal should be rejected. Hydronor had filed an urgent suspended appeal with the Council of State on 18 May, three days after the Brussels Capital Region awarded the contract to Aquiris. Hydronor’s aim was to prevent the contract between the Region and Aquiris being concluded.
On the wet air oxidation issue, the Council of State representative stated that the “Region has analysed the elements of the wet air oxidation procedure in a correct and appropriate manner enabling it to reasonably conclude that incineration was not in any way involved.” The representative added that the European directive on waste incineration did not relate to the wet air oxidation process. Moreover, Hydronor itself had considered wet air oxidation, proving that it did not regard it as incineration.