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Winnipeg’s mayor said he welcomes a funding "milestone" for the first phases of the $1.8-billion upgrade of the city's largest sewage treatment plant, despite having to give up future cash for transit.
Full provincial and federal funding of the north end plant upgrades has not yet been promised.
"Since 2016, the City of Winnipeg has been alone in its efforts to upgrade the (plant) and today marks a milestone in those efforts to gain significant funding commitments from the provincial and federal governments," Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters Tuesday.
The province has asked Winnipeg to transfer about $321 million of potential Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) funds from a public transit stream to a green infrastructure category to accommodate the federal share of the projects, according to a city report.
The mayor said he’ll support that change, as long as certain conditions are met.
"(While) I wish the (transit) demand hadn’t been made… we’re trying to do our best to work with them to get those dollars," said Bowman.
He noted the city could still claim up to $204 million of federal transit funds under the program, which could trigger about $534 million of total funding, should all three governments agree to an ICIP transit deal.
Council will vote on a call to support that transfer, subject to a condition that the province commit $268 million for the sewage project, instead of the roughly $183 million it has promised so far. The city said the province must guarantee no further reductions to Winnipeg’s remaining ICIP public transit cash, and both senior governments must ensure the transfer doesn’t delay the project.
"Provided the provincial government can step up its commitment, we’d be looking at over half-a-billion from provincial and federal governments to support (sewage upgrades), the No. 1 infrastructure priority of the City of Winnipeg," said Bowman.
Under the city proposal, Ottawa must provide $321 million and the province must pay $268 million toward the $909-million tab for the first two phases of the sewage plant upgrades. The city would cover the rest.
The city separately funded some additional power supply work for the project.
The province also wants to explore how a public-private partnership could be used for the final two phases of the sewage plant project, though the city’s public service warns that procurement change would delay the work.
In a letter shared by the city, the province also notes "further discussion will be required in relation to flowing these funds within the City of Winnipeg’s annual strategic infrastructure basket" funding from the province.
The letter doesn’t state if that means the province’s sewage funding could at some point use up part or all of that annual grant.
Funding for the $828-million third phase of the project wasn’t part of the ICIP request. That’s the stage that will reduce the phosphorus and nitrogen in effluent released by the plant, which promotes algae growth on Lake Winnipeg.
In a written statement, Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires did not commit to the city’s terms.
"We will review the City of Winnipeg’s proposals but also note that any proposed conditions are non-binding on the provincial and federal governments," she wrote.
The minister stressed the province’s commitment to the sewage upgrades, promising to advance the project with the federal government, should council approve its proposal.
Squires described strategic infrastructure basket funding as "currently separate from any provincial contribution under ICIP."
She added that the province remains interested in a public-private partnership and believes it could "accelerate" the sewage upgrades.
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.
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