Deal flushes Pallister-caused clog in sewage-treatment plant upgrades Premier, mayor to announce city, province, Ottawa have struck $500-M agreement to pay for second phase of North End facility plan

After more than a year of intergovernmental limbo, the provincial and federal governments have struck a $500-million deal with the City of Winnipeg to fund the second phase of upgrades to the North End sewage treatment plant, the Free Press has learned.

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After more than a year of intergovernmental limbo, the provincial and federal governments have struck a $500-million deal with the City of Winnipeg to fund the second phase of upgrades to the North End sewage treatment plant, the Free Press has learned.

Premier Heather Stefanson is expected to join Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and federal officials on Tuesday morning to confirm the Phase 2 funding deal.

Sources confirmed Ottawa will contribute approximately $200 million for Phase 2 — which will add bio-solids processing to the project — with the province providing $160 million and the city completing this stage of the project with a $133-million contribution of its own.

In total, the planned sewage plan upgrades will cost nearly $1.9 billion. Phase 3 — a controversial $828-million proposal to add technology to remove nutrients from the sewage plant outflow that contribute to algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg — is not yet in place.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg was first ordered by the province to upgrade its sewage-treatment facilities in 2003. Over the ensuring two decades, the city has sparred with the province over how much support it would get to complete one of the largest infrastructure projects in Manitoba history.

Winnipeg was first ordered by the province to upgrade its sewage-treatment facilities in 2003. Over the ensuing two decades, the city has sparred with the province over how much support it would get to complete one of the largest infrastructure projects in Manitoba history.

The city has already completed significant upgrades to all of its sewage-treatment facilities. A $33-million project to upgrade biological nutrient removal at the West End plant was completed in 2010. And a $335-million upgrade for the South End plant is currently underway.

It has been the North End plant, however, that has been the greatest source of concern, largely because it is also far and away the most expensive.

The intergovernmental conflicts that have hampered the North End project have, at times, prevented the city from formally applying to Ottawa for funding support. Regardless of which party is in power, the federal government almost always requires provincial involvement and approval to fund municipal infrastructure projects.

Former premier Brian Pallister was criticized by city officials often for being unsympathetic to Winnipeg infrastructure priorities, even when delays threatened to leave federal money on the table.

At one point, Bowman warned Pallister that delays in providing provincial approval could show up on the water and sewer bills sent to Winnipeg homeowners. “The delay is not going to help those that want to keep the costs as low as possible,” Bowman said in January.

And it meant the city often had to wait months, even years, to formalize applications and get funding deals done with Ottawa.

The North End sewage treatment plant is an excellent case in point.

Phase one construction for the north end sewage treatment plant in Winnipeg. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The city first applied to the federal government in October 2019 to support Phases 1 and 2 of the mammoth project. A tripartite $350-million deal was reached nearly two years later — in July 2021 — bringing Phase 1 to fruition. That deal saw Ottawa providing $116 million, the province $96.7 million and the city contributing the remaining $143 million.

However, since then Phase 2 funding has remained very much in limbo. Despite expectations the provincial government would contribute, last fall the city expressed concern publicly that provincial foot-dragging would result in missing a December 2021 deadline for Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan applications. If that deadline were breached, it was unclear Ottawa would be able to support the project.

The first signs that the intergovernmental logjam was loosening came in November 2021 when Stefanson, as one of her first high-profile announcements after becoming premier, joined Bowman to confirm the province had signed off on funding for Phase 2 of the project. That allowed the city to file its funding application with Ottawa.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Heather Stefanson is expected to join Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and federal officials on Tuesday morning to confirm the Phase 2 funding deal.

However, even with that pledge on the record, it still took more than a year to complete the Phase 2 deal.

Now that the second phase funding is in place, all eyes will turn to the last and largest phase of the upgrades to the North End plant. The sources said negotiations on that phase are only at a preliminary stage.

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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Updated on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 9:11 AM CDT: Corrects typo

Updated on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 10:01 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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