'Sewage isn't sexy': Winnipeg sewer project now pegged at $1B
One councillor says the sewage treatment expansion project doesn't get a lot of attention, perhaps to the surprise of no one.
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The cost estimate on the City of Winnipeg’s most expensive project continues to climb, yet it still lacks federal support.
A new, more detailed project estimate pegs the cost of expanding the capacity of the North End Water Pollution Control Centre at more than $1 billion – up more than $200 million from the last time the committee heard a report on the project.
It also doesn’t get a lot of attention, which one councillor quipped might have something to do with the public service it will provide.
“Sewage isn’t sexy,” said Coun. Brian Mayes after Monday’s water, waste and environment committee meeting.
The city opted to expand the sewage treatment plant following a now-14-year-old provincial order to cut back on nutrient loads being dumped into Lake Winnipeg’s watershed.
Geoff Patton, Engineering Manager for Water and Waste, said additional design work identified some new costs, the loonies’ exchange rate to U.S dollars, and lessons learned from upgrading the south end plant resulted in the new, higher cost estimate for the North End plant.
It’s also complex, he said.
“We have to maintain a plant that treats 70 per cent of the sewage for the city of Winnipeg while we’re upgrading it at the same time,” he explained. “We need to operate the system, run the plant, still be compliant, and upgrade it all at the same time, and make critical tie-ins.”
Mayes said the huge project is “important to do what we can for the environment.” But he’s also noticed the budget ballooning without support from other levels of government increasing in turn.
To date, the province has committed $195 million, based on a now-outdated estimate, and the federal government has not committed any funds, the committee heard Monday.
Mayes said “there's a federal role” that needs to be played, noting there are "various green initiatives" receiving federal support in municipalities.
Sexy or not, "this is our biggest need,” he said.
Mayor Brian Bowman echoed Mayes’ general support for the project.
“The health of the lake is an issue that is something on a personal level I take very, very seriously—my grandfather was a commercial fisherman out of Victoria Beach,” Bowman said, adding he’s seen the health of the lake change during his own lifetime.
He also hopes for more support from the federal and provincial governments. He wouldn’t speculate as to why that funding isn’t on the books so far, or confirm whether a formal funding request with the Trudeau government has been made yet.
“Right now (finance, water and waste committees) have been grappling with scope as well as opportunities to leverage other funds from other levels of government, and that’s something we are continuing to work with the public service on,” he said.
Patton said a design-build contractor should be selected by early 2019, after which the project would most likely be finished by 2024.