Mayor Brian Bowman is renewing calls for the province to pony up cash for infrastructure upgrades in the wake of 60 million litres of diluted sewage being dumped into the Red River.
The city allowed the sewage to flow into the river from April 23 to 25 to prevent it from backing up into basements, when a major storm overwhelmed the south end sewage treatment plant.
Bowman told media the latest sewage spill highlights the need to promptly fund major projects that would prevent wastewater from winding up in rivers and lakes.
It underscores why weve been investing so much (to reduce) combined sewer overflows and why weve increased the annual investments from $30 million to $45 million (from 2024 to 2027 to reduce that type of spill). Of course, we would welcome the support of other levels of government to help expedite things even further, he said.
The mayor said sewage spills are not only gross and unsightly but cause environmental damage that warrants attention. On Thursday, he echoed a frequent municipal call for the province and feds to commit cash to expedite the $2.3-billion master plan to reduce combined sewer overflows. Those overflows occur when heavy rain or snow overwhelms older sewers that collect precipitation and wastewater in a single pipe, causing them to overflow into rivers.
Bowman said the city should also explore additional steps to reduce spills.
I dont think we should say, Weve stepped up by tens of millions of dollars (for) the investments (so) were good. I think we need to be open to (other) ways we can… try to mitigate and speed up diversions, he said.
The mayor accused the provincial government of adding caveats to its support for the second phase of the $1.85-billion north end sewage treatment plant upgrade, which he says are delaying the project.
The province denies that claim.
If approved, the city, province and feds would spend a combined $552 million for the second phase of that project.
The province had wanted the city to explore private operations of the upgrade, which the city rejected. Bowman says the province now wants to involve the Canada Infrastructure Bank in the project, a change he said would delay the tri-government funding request.
The infrastructure bank funds public-private partnerships.
Bowman did not specifically blame Premier Heather Stefanson for the delay, stating shes trying to resolve the matter.
But he said there is a provincial delay and no federal holdup.
The prime minister is very clear (saying) lets get on with this and thats my sentiment as well, he said.
The mayor also accused the province of adding conditions to its support for a separate tri-government funding request in which the three levels of government would spend a combined $538 million on the first steps of the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan.
Were now in 2022 and we want to see that project move forward and (not)… move back to more debate and dialogue. We need to proceed on that as quickly as possible, said Bowman.
The mayor told reporters there appears to be some disagreement over the number of zero-emission buses in the plan, though he did not offer details.
The city and province held a joint news conference in November to announce support for both projects, which would still require federal approval.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Stefanson said the province is eager to see both projects move forward despite confusion at the municipal level.
Both of these important climate adaptation projects have been advanced by the province to Infrastructure Canada and the federal review process is ongoing, the spokesperson said.
The statement said the north end sewage upgrade funding awaits a final business case from the city, while the transit request is being reviewed by federal officials.
Despite provincial questions about whether the project should involve more zero-emission buses than diesel buses, given the 20-year life span of the diesel buses and environmental considerations, we understand the project is advancing in accordance with the citys original plan, the spokesperson said.
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.