The provincial government is bluntly ordering the City of Winnipeg to complete its sewage upgrades, with no further deadline extensions.
However, the city says it’s the province that delayed funding on one project, while contract issues delayed the other.
The province sent two scathing letters on April 14 about the $1.854-billion north end and $352-million south end sewage treatment plant upgrades, which the city has made public.
"The city’s lack of control over the project and routinely missed deadlines is increasingly concerning," the letter about the south end plant work states.
The letter officially denies the city’s request to extend its deadline to greatly reduce pollution in effluent leaving the plant. Winnipeg proposed the target date to meet that pollution limit be extended to Sept. 30 (instead of July 31) and the full plant compliance deadline become July 31, 2023 (instead of Jan. 31, 2023).
"Repeated delays to this project have increased risks to environmental and human health, and this is not acceptable," the letter states.
The city originally planned to complete the south end plant in 2012, according to the province. A city official couldn’t confirm that date Wednesday, but said the original deadline was at least as early as 2015.
In a separate letter about the north end plant, the province says the city "has failed repeatedly" — from Dec. 31, 2014, to Dec. 31, 2019 — to meet pollution compliance deadlines on that project.
"The lack of a strategy to achieve compliance and complete upgrades to the facility in a timely fashion is a serious concern," the letter states.
Both projects are meant to reduce the amount of phosphorus released into local waterways, a nutrient that promotes algae growth.
The city originally planned to finish the north end plant in 2014, before a series of provincially approved extensions.
Municipal public service reports note very different reasons for the delays. One blames south end delays primarily on a contractor missing schedule milestones; another notes a request for the city, province and Ottawa to enter a funding agreement on Phase 2 of the north end upgrade has faced 2 1/2 years of delays.
Coun. Brian Mayes, water and waste committee chairman, said it’s high time the money flows to get the work done.
"I’ve never seen anything like this, where (all) the political leadership is saying ‘let’s go’ and there still seems to be some sort of hang-up somewhere in the bureaucratic fog here. Instead of writing the letters, let’s get shovel in the ground here, let’s get going," said Mayes.
Mayor Brian Bowman has accused the province of dragging its feet to approve the funding request, then adding conditions to its support.
The province has repeatedly pushed the city to consider more private involvement in the north end project, which the city rejected, Mayes noted. The matter was thought to be settled in November when Premier Heather Stefanson told media the city could make that decision.
The letters ignore the fact tri-government funding deal is still not final and city ratepayers can’t afford the entire tab alone, said Coun. Jeff Browaty, finance committee chairman.
"To be in compliance by the timeframes they’re talking about is not fair or reasonable… this has to be tri-level funded," said Browaty.
In an email, a provincial spokesperson did not directly answer questions about the timing of Manitoba government funding for the north end project. The statement stressed the province is committed to getting the work done.
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.