Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/12/2019 (282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor Brian Bowman said the provincial government’s decision to force the city to develop an interim solution to reduce phosphorus at the North End sewage plant by Feb. 1 was one of the year’s biggest surprises.
While the move would improve the health of Lake Winnipeg, the provincial government has refused to help pay for the costly upgrades.
"That was a complete shock and surprise to us and neighbouring municipalities who are affected," Bowman said during a year-end interview.
On Dec. 5, the city learned the province had denied its request to extend the deadline to reach emissions targets at the sewage plant. As of Jan. 1, the city will not be in compliance with its Environment Act licence.
Just before meeting with the Free Press on Friday, the mayor sat down with officials from the city’s water and waste department, as well as leaders from the RMs of Rosser and West St. Paul, to discuss the treatment plant project.
He reiterated his concern that the Feb. 1 deadline could compromise the wastewater system. The city is continuing to make upgrades to the plant and plan a pilot project to test a chemical agent that’s aimed at reducing phosphorus.
"We obviously want to make sure that any such implementation is done in a way that doesn’t risk the integrity of the North End sewage treatment plant that all three municipalities currently rely upon. So, we’re trying to exchange facts and just make sure that the lines of communication are open," Bowman said.
Hundreds of thousands of residents of Winnipeg, West St. Paul and Rosser could be affected if the system were to go awry.
Bowman suggested last week that services to neighbouring municipalities might be affected if Winnipeg has to comply with such a tight deadline. That would be due to engineering issues with the plant.
Cheryl Christian, mayor of West St. Paul, heard about the struggles directly from engineers on Friday and said she shares Bowman’s concerns.
"We’re all working towards the same goal, but these are expensive endeavours, and if the province will support this, it’s not just for the City of Winnipeg but for the region," she said.
"We’re a growing community and we want to make sure that we have the essential services to support that."
Rosser Reeve Frances Smee said each party wants the same thing. "We want to have sustainable, reliable services and we want a healthy lake," she said.
So far, it appears the city will be on the hook to pay for efforts to cut phosphorus in the interim.
The water and waste department received approval in October to test a new chemical agent at the plant. The process was scheduled to take a year. The department was directed to pay for the project out of its existing budget, and although a request for proposals has been issued (with a deadline of Dec. 16), a cost estimate isn’t yet clear.
The city has approved a $408-million project to upgrade the plant power supply and headworks facilities, but two subsequent projects — biosolid and nutrient removal — that have a combined price tag of $1.38 billion, haven’t been approved. They won’t proceed without financial support from the provincial and federal governments.
The Free Press requested an interview with Manitoba Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard on Friday. A spokesperson said the minister was at a conference and was unavailable. Instead, a statement was issued.
"Our priority at this stage is finding a solution, collaboratively and in a timely manner," it read. "It is irresponsible to commit to funding without a proper plan in place. Once an interim plan is presented, the appropriate discussions around funding will take place."
Updated on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 6:05 AM CST: Adds photos
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.