08/02/2012 01:22 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia may have to tender roadwork because of paving plant delays: minister

HALIFAX - Roadwork in Nova Scotia planned for this year may have to go to tender because of delays with the provincial government's $3.6-million mobile asphalt plant, the transportation minister said Thursday.

Maurice Smith said he is arranging to prepare tenders in case they're necessary to pave 90 kilometres of roads this year.

"Let's take it easy. Let's go slow. Let's get it done right," Smith said.

"Anybody who was expecting to get their pavement done this year, it's going to happen. So I'm not concerned about that. I'm disappointed, I'd like to see it out more quickly, but it will get going."

Last year, the government awarded a $3.6-million contract to Florida-based General Combustion Corp. to build a portable asphalt plant. It was expected to be operational by the end of June, but Smith said technicians continue to "work out the bugs."

He said he doesn't know whether it would cost more to go through the tendering process than it would if the government were able to proceed with its own plan to pave rural roads.

"Who knows?" he said. "Until the tenders come in, we don't know what it's going to cost."

The private sector and the province's opposition parties have criticized the government's plan to get back into the paving business since the decision was announced in March 2011 after an 18-year absence. At the time, the government said it wanted to address unfair pricing and a lack of competition for project tenders in some rural areas of the province.

Progressive Conservative house leader Chris d'Entremont issued a statement Thursday again criticizing the government's decision.

"The NDP government has proven itself incompetent beyond belief, and now taxpayers are paying the price for their bumbling efforts to compete with private companies," d'Entremont said.

"It's time for the minister to be honest about whether or not his government's misadventures will cost taxpayers even more this year."

As part of its plan to get into the road-paving business, the government also set up a 26-member road resurfacing crew, which began work last year.

But criticism grew months later when it was revealed the crew only resurfaced 40 kilometres of the 56 kilometres of roads promised with double chip seal, a mixture of rock chips and liquid asphalt. At the time, it completed none of the 311 kilometres of road it had promised to resurface with single chip seal.

The government said it missed the target because of poor weather and the need to train its crew.