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Montreal rethinking shutout of PVC pipe for water mains

By: Michael Lauzon

April 12, 2013

MONTREAL -- The city of Montreal is studying whether to include large-diameter PVC pipe in its main potable-water lines.

Canada's second-largest city has discouraged use of PVC pipe for potable lines with diameters exceeding 24 inches. PVC pipe producers have felt shut out of construction work because of the policy.

"We're all for open competition [against cement and steel pipe]," said Bruce Hollands, executive director of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association in Dallas.

City of Montreal spokesman Philippe Sabourin said the city has preferred steel and cement water mains because they are the original pipe materials laid down decades ago in one of Canada's oldest cities. Water mains have been breaking down due to their age, causing some major flooding in the city.

"We don't want to create a mosaic of materials requiring different materials and equipment during repair and reconstruction," Sabourin said in a recent telephone interview.

However, Montreal is revisiting its stance on major pipelines in a study due to be completed late this year and may decide PVC pipe has a role in water mains.

Sabourin said Montreal has been receptive to using PVC pipe in new, secondary piping systems. In new suburbs much of the pipe is PVC. Montreal now has nearly 90 miles of PVC pipe in secondary conduits, mainly in new neighborhoods.

Montreal's attitude toward PVC pipe was recently highlighted in an April 8 article published by Canadian Broadcasting Corp. CBC reported that PVC pipe producers have complained about being shut out of bidding on Montreal's municipal contracts.

UniBell's Hollands said by telephone that the CBC article was accurate but he declined to disclose details.

The CBC article said a PVC pipe executive alleged he was approached to pay a C$150,000 (US$147,900) kickback if he wanted to bid on a municipal contract. The kickback scheme was brought to light during a municipal scandal investigation known as the Charbonneau Commission investigation.

The official cited in the CBC article, Michel Cadotte, testified that he spent more than a decade trying to get the city to buy his firm's PVC pipes for water mains and sewers. He told the commission his plans were stymied after he refused to pay the kickback.

Cadotte, a sales manager for Canadian pipe major Ipex Inc. of Verdun, Quebec, declined to comment on the CBC article or his testimony, referring questions to the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association.

Montreal has specified its water mains should be steel or cement. PVC pipe producers claim their products have lower failure rates and are more cost-effective than traditional materials.