February 23, 2019

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Sewage plant upgrade price tag climbs to $1.8 billion

North End Sewage Treatment Plant

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

North End Sewage Treatment Plant

Costs continue to increase for upgrades to Winnipeg's north end sewage treatment plant.

The latest figure proposed for the massive project is now $1.8 billion, up from about $1.4 billion a year ago, and more than double the original estimate of $795 million in 2016.

An administrative report to the Feb. 14 meeting of city council’s environment committee states the earlier cost figures were only preliminary estimates, which had the potential for substantial increases. The most recent figure, the report states, is a Class 3 estimate, which the city uses when putting projects out for tender.

A separate report to the same meeting shows the water and waste utility wants a 4.7 per cent increase in the quarterly household water and sewer charges to go into effect in April — which it states is necessary to fund the sewage treatment plant upgrades and ongoing combined sewer overflow mitigation efforts.

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Costs continue to increase for upgrades to Winnipeg's north end sewage treatment plant.

The latest figure proposed for the massive project is now $1.8 billion, up from about $1.4 billion a year ago, and more than double the original estimate of $795 million in 2016.

An administrative report to the Feb. 14 meeting of city council’s environment committee states the earlier cost figures were only preliminary estimates, which had the potential for substantial increases. The most recent figure, the report states, is a Class 3 estimate, which the city uses when putting projects out for tender.

A separate report to the same meeting shows the water and waste utility wants a 4.7 per cent increase in the quarterly household water and sewer charges to go into effect in April — which it states is necessary to fund the sewage treatment plant upgrades and ongoing combined sewer overflow mitigation efforts.

The second report says such increases could be substantially higher in future years if neither the provincial and federal governments participate in the cost-sharing of the $1.8-billion project, and city hall is forced to pay for the entire cost alone.

The plant upgrade will be the most expensive infrastructure project in the City of Winnipeg's history. However, unlike other major projects, there is no formal agreement for cost-sharing with the provincial and federal governments.

The former provincial NDP government had committed $34.4 million, but city officials said the Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister recently requested that money be diverted to offset the cost of the Waverley Street rail underpass and other projects, citing the repeated delays in getting the sewage treatment upgrade project started.

However, Mayor Brian Bowman said Friday close to $60 million in contracts have been awarded for the project.

"They’re saying, send us back the $34 million, when monies are being expended on that project right now," he said in an interview. "It could further slow the project down, which is not something that I would support.

"I think Winnipeggers and Manitobans want to see the north end treatment plant proceed as soon as possible — and removing funds from the project at this time without any written commitments would increase risk for Winnipeg taxpayers and Winnipeg ratepayers right now."

The upgrades were ordered by the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission. The project involves upgrading the Main Street facility to comply with provincial environmental regulations, including limits on effluent emissions into the Red River for nitrogen and phosphorous, and the construction of a new facility to treat sludge from the city’s three sewage treatment plants.

The new discharge limits were to go into effect in 2014, but city hall obtained an extension until December 2019. The report says a second extension will be requested later this year, based on an approved project schedule which would have a proposed completion date of 2025.

The original cost estimate of $795 million was approved by council in March 2016.

In September 2017, officials said that figure was too low and could be as high was $1.4 billion or $1.5 billion. At the time, utility officials said part of the price increase was the result of the change in the American dollar exchange and the complexity of the project, which requires the plant to remain in operation while upgrades are implemented.

The north end plant is one of three sewage treatment facilities in the city. It has been in operation since in 1937, and is the largest of the three, treating 70 per cent of the city’s sewage.

The latest cost estimate puts the project itself at $1.63 billion, with an additional $155 million in interest charges during the construction period.

The report notes the plant’s sludge treatment capacity could be reached within five to 10 years, adding economic growth within the city could be limited if capacity isn’t expanded.

The report proposes to issue a request for proposal for construction on the project later this year, with a start date in 2020 and completion in 2025.

— with files from Larry Kusch

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

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History

Updated on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 12:21 PM CST: Typo fixed.

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