Selkirk and Gimli sewage treatment to get funding from feds, province

The federal and provincial governments will cover two-thirds of the cost of sewage-treatment upgrades in two Manitoba municipalities.

Premier Brian Pallister also hints at changes to nutrient-removal requirements

SELKIRK — The federal and provincial governments will cover two-thirds of the cost of sewage-treatment upgrades in two Manitoba municipalities.

Premier Brian Pallister and federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced on Friday their governments will spend  $11.7 million each on a $35.2-million replacement for Selkirk's sewage-treatment plant. They will also contribute $6 million toward the $18-million expansion of Gimli's sewage-treatment plant.

Selkirk Mayor Larry Johannson described his city's new sewage-treatment plant as the largest infrastructure project undertaken by the Red River Valley community.

Gimli Mayor Randy Woroniuk said the expansion of the Lake Winnipeg town's plant will allow new commercial and industrial developments to proceed.

Repeating an earlier Progressive Conservative government pledge to review nutrient-removal policy, Pallister hinted Manitoba may be willing to allow municipalities to remove only phosphorus from the sewage effluent stream, rather than both nitrogen and phosphorus.

Freshwater scientists argue it is crucial to remove phosphorus because that nutrient promotes the growth of the algae that bloom in Lake Winnipeg and then deprive the lake of oxygen after they die and decompose. They've argued against removing nitrogen because blue-green algae are capable of fixing nitrogen directly from the air.

Pallister suggested an announcement may be coming regarding nitrogen. Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol said his city is prepared and is planning a plant that will either remove phosphorus or both phosphorus and nitrogen.

The City of Winnipeg is eagerly awaiting the announcement as well, as it is in the midst of planning more than $1 billion of upgrades to both its North End and South End sewage-treatment plants.

Pallister said there's a lot more infrastructure work to do in Manitoba — but not unlimited dollars.

"These are issues that were neglected by previous administrations of all political stripes for far too long. And so now we're in a situation where, let's just say we'll get a lot more applications than we have dollars to make available," he said.

After the sewage-treatment announcement, Pallister and Carr also addressed the Port of Churchill closure, stating they have had no communications with OmniTrax, the Denver-based company that owns the port and the Hudson Bay Railway.

OmniTrax closed the port and cut back freight-train service last week. Pallister said the province is working on a long-term solution to the port closure but again ruled out short-term subsidies for OmniTrax.

"The approaches that have been taken too often in the past have been alarmist and crisis in orientation and that is not the nature of how we're going to build a stronger northern economy and stronger communities," Pallister said.

Tory cabinet ministers Scott Fielding and Cliff Cullen planned to fly to Churchill today but were grounded by bad weather.

In a statement, the Pallister government called on OmniTrax to "clarify its future intentions" for the Port of Churchill and Hudson Bay Railway.