City forced to explore public-private sewage plant upgrade
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/05/2021 (750 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A consultant could soon gauge private interest to build and operate key parts of a $1.85-billion upgrade to Winnipeg’s north end sewage treatment plant — despite union concerns such privatization would trigger layoffs and pose safety risks.
Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, called the provincially directed step a “slap in the face.”
“There’s no question about it, it’s going to impact the livelihoods of city workers. And right now, of all times, to start bringing this type of uncertainty forward, during a pandemic… It’s despicable that the provincial government would even propose such (changes),” he said Friday.
A City of Winnipeg water and waste report asks council’s executive policy committee to fund a $400,000, single-source contract with Deloitte LLP, to determine if there’s interest in a private-public partnership (P3) for the upgrade’s biosolids facility and nutrient-removal phases.
The report notes city officials don’t think private operations are feasible.
Instead, officials are recommending the contract because the province won’t submit a tri-government funding request to support the sewage upgrade unless the city explores this exact option.
The union expects an unknown number of jobs will be lost if such privatization actually occurs, said Delbridge, who represents Winnipeg water and waste workers.
It’s not yet clear how EPC will vote on the contract.
Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the water and waste committee, said he’s concerned privatizing operations of any wastewater treatment could introduce new safety risks.
“It’s a plant worth (almost $2 billion), treating effluent going into the river and the lake. I would think most people would (not be) looking to get the cheapest possible option here… To operate a sewage treatment plant, safety and the environment should be first here, not looking for a private profit,” said Mayes.
The current contract marks just a first step toward possible private construction, operation and maintenance, said Moira Geer, Winnipeg water and waste director.
If companies are interested, the consultant would then do a value-for-money analysis of how the model compares to other options. If no interest is found, the city would seek a private design and construction for the project but keep public control of operations and maintenance.
She said the province expects the P3 model could deliver the upgrades cheaper and faster, but the city disagrees.
“(We think) that this will cause undue delay and there’s no need to look at the workforce because we’re very, very confident in how the plants are operated,” said Geer.
The procurement process for the private model will likely take a minimum of two years to complete, which threatens to delay the sewage treatment upgrades, she added.
In October 2019, the city applied for Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program funding to secure federal and provincial cash to help cover the first two phases of the upgrade, which has yet to be approved.
Funding has not yet been requested for the third and final “nutrient removal” phase of the project, which would greatly reduce algae-promoting nutrients that leave the plant and ultimately wind up in Lake Winnipeg.
Geer said any change in operations of the north end sewage treatment plant, the city’s largest such facility, would also affect the south and west end plants, since the smaller sites are run remotely by north staff on nights and weekends.
“This type of P3 would essentially be privatization of the entire sewage treatment system in the City of Winnipeg,” Geer wrote in a city report.
In an email, a Manitoba Central Services spokesperson said the province believes the private-public option is promising.
“Manitoba believes a P3 procurement model will bring the benefits of greater cost certainty and constraint, as well as schedule acceleration,” the spokesperson said.
The province declined to directly respond to union concerns about layoffs and safety risks.
EPC members will be asked to cast the first and final city vote on the matter Tuesday.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.