Province pooh-poohs Winnipeg request for extra time to finish $2B price of sewage-treatment upgrades

The provincial government is refusing City of Winnipeg requests for more time to complete nearly $2 billion worth of sewage-treatment upgrades while the city is struggling with construction deficiencies at one plant and doesn’t have most of the money lined up to improve another.

According to documents published by the city Wednesday, Manitoba Environment, Climate and Parks has refused a city request for six more months to complete $352 million worth of upgrades underway at the South End Water Pollution Control Centre, the second-largest of the city’s three sewage-treatment plants.

The provincial department also demanded the city complete $1.6 billion worth of upgrades to the larger North End Water Pollution Control Centre by 2030 instead of 2032.

In a pair of letters dated April 14, Manitoba environmental approvals director James Capotosto accused the city of losing control over the South End project, further damaging the environment and endangering human health.

“The city’s lack of control over the [South End] project and routinely missed deadlines is extremely concerning,” Capotosto wrote in one letter.

“Repeated delays to this project have increased risks to environmental and human health, and this is not acceptable.”

The province’s position on the South End plant has reignited tensions with the city, which has been struggling with mechanical, electrical, concrete and other deficiencies that put the project behind schedule and required the contractor to redo work in a number of areas

The city has declared Ontario-based contractor NAC Constructors in default of its $180-million contract and also hired the law firm Duboff Edwards Haight & Schacter to work out what the report calls contractual issues and remedies.

In a letter to the province obtained by CBC News, Winnipeg chief administrative officer Michael Jack reminded senior provincial officials the city has been “open and transparent” about its construction problems at the South End plant and the delays resulting from its contractual dispute with NAC Constructors.

“The city is working with external legal counsel to enact all remedies within the contract to both accelerate completion of the works and to protect the waterways and ratepayers,” Jack wrote to three deputy ministers.

The city plans to build a $553-million biolsolids-processing facility at the North End Water Pollution Control Centre. (CBC )

In a separate letter to the city about the North End plant, the provincial environment approvals director accused the city of blowing deadlines for completing the $1.6-billion project, including a plan to complete the work by 2030.

“The upgrades are for the benefit of Manitobans and our environment. They are meant to reduce nutrient loading into the Red River and decrease the risk of algal blooms in Manitoba’s waterways, including Lake Winnipeg,” Campostoto said. “Accordingly, we expect the city to accelerate progress to meet licence conditions within the time outlined.”

The upgrades at the North End plant include a headworks project all three levels of government are funding to the tune of $473 million, a $553-million biosolids-processing plant that is awaiting funding approval and an $828-million nutrient-removal facility that is not funded at all.

When the provincial Clean Environment Commission determined the city must upgrade sewage treatment in 2003, the body suggested all three levels of government would share the cost.

That largely has not happened. All three levels of government only agreed to cover the headworks project in 2021, while the biosolids funding remains up in the air.

Winnipeg CAO Jack said in his letter the city can not accelerate the project, let alone create a schedule because the province continues to insist the city look for a private partner to help build the biolsoids facility before it forwards the funding application to the federal government.

Jack chastised the province for continuing to ask the city to look for private financing even though Premier Heather Stefanson publicly assured Mayor Brian Bowman at city hall in November “the project would be delivered as determined by the city” and that the request for federal funding would be submitted as soon as possible.

Winnipeg gets $213M for North End sewage plant upgrade

A long-awaited funding announcement for the first stage of critical upgrades to Winnipeg’s North End Water Pollution Control Centre finally came on Friday — a fraction of the total $1.8 billion the city estimates it needs to fully upgrade the sewage treatment plant. 2:06

A separate city report on the state of government grants, published Wednesday, states the province has still not forwarded the application to Ottawa.

The Progressive Conservative government claims otherwise.

Jon Lovlin, a spokesperson for Environment, Climate and Parks Minister Jeff Wharton, said Wednesday in a statement the biosolids facility is fully funded.

Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), city council’s finance chair, said he is surprised to hear the province complain about the city blowing deadlines when the headworks project was only funded during the federal election last summer.

He also said he is frustrated to hear the province claim the biosolids project is fully funded when he is certain provincial officials know otherwise.

“I think it’s a little rich for the province to be saying that they’re upset about the timelines when [the city] only got the first tranche of money last July,” Browaty said.

“And Phase 2, even though the money is in the bank account, we can’t use it. They haven’t agreed to the terms of proceeding with it. So there are some real concerns.”

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a statement he hopes the province and the city can put the funding dispute to bed.

“The current sewage-treatment capacity is finite and the continued delays will have an impact on Winnipeg’s future economic development and population growth,” he said.

Browaty said if the city is forced to pay for all the improvements on its own, water and sewer bills will be more expensive than property taxes.

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