The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed some upgrades to Winnipeg’s south end sewage treatment plant, which could also affect the project’s $335.6-million price tag.
A city report notes work on the plant’s headworks facility, and an interim step to reduce phosphorus in its effluent, were delayed due to a variety of changes required by the pandemic.
"The impact of COVID is that we had some schedule delays because we had travel restrictions. We have contractors and consultants that work out-of-province, so that was an impact … (We’re also seeing a) general slowdown in work by cohorting our staff onsite on the project to make sure that we don’t have the interaction and that we’re protecting our essential services workers," said Moira Geer, director of the water and waste department, following Tuesday’s water and waste committee meeting.
Geer noted staff interactions are limited, in part, to ensure essential water and sewer services can continue.
She said the pandemic also lengthened the time it took to deliver some equipment that had to be shipped from other provinces or countries.
Water and waste officials still expect the overall project will be completed by Dec. 31. The upgrades will expand the plant’s treatment capacity and reduce the algae-promoting nutrients in its effluent.
"We’re working hard to meet that deadline… and that’s what our current schedule is," said Geoffrey Patton, the water and waste department’s manager of engineering services.
Patton said it’s not apparent how the pandemic changes might affect the cost.
"There will be cost implications but we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. We don’t know. We are working on this right now and any change in the currently approved budget will come forward to council," he said.
The city had hoped to take interim steps last year to reduce algae-promoting phosphorus in the effluent released by the plant, which winds up in waterways. That work has not yet occurred.
Meanwhile, the city warned it could face delays on $1.8 billion in upgrades to its north end sewage plant, if it doesn’t receive Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program funding for the project’s first two phases by March 31.
Geer said the city hopes to award a headworks facilities design build contract by that point.
Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the water and waste committee, said he is concerned about the delays.
"It’s a risk. Who knows when COVID’s going to be done? …(It) has certainly complicated a number of our projects," he said.
Mayes stressed he is confident all three levels of government are committed to ensuring the north end plant upgrades will progress soon.
"I think there’s a lot of goodwill from the province and the feds to get this thing going," he 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.