Nfld. & Labrador

No extra cash for wastewater facility costs in St. John's, after feds and mayors meet

The mayors of St. John's, Paradise and Mount Pearl met with two federal ministers looking for more money Monday, but came away empty-handed.

Tax increases may be necessary to cover increasing price tag, warn mayors

New regulations require new infrastructure to further clean water beyond what is currently done at the Riverhead water treatment facility in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The mayors of Mount Pearl, Paradise and St. John's walked away empty-handed from a meeting with two federal ministers on Monday, as the three sought more money to fund a secondary wastewater facility in St. John's.

The price tag on the new treatment system has jumped $32 million above its previous estimate, but the amount promised by the federal government has stayed the same, meaning the municipalities are on the hook to cover the increased costs. 

The mayors met with François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of infrastructure and communities, Seamus O'Regan, the regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, at St. John's city hall Monday morning.

The federal government has committed to pay about 43 per cent of the cost of the project, which now totals more than $250 million. Last month, St. John's Mayor Danny Breen was combative when he called on the federal government to stick to its earlier promise to pay for 50 per cent of the project.

His tone was different after Monday's meeting.

"I think we had a great discussion. We had some ideas that went around and minister Champagne has committed on getting back to us on a number of issues," he said.

François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of infrastructure and communities, met with mayors Monday morning in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

Speaking to reporters, Champagne gave no indication the federal government is willing to increase its contribution to the project.

"We're in solution mode. Trying to find ways to make it happen. Traditionally, the federal government has come in for infrastructure projects for decades at one-third. In this case, we are well beyond the one-third," he said.

Breen has said the city may have to raise taxes in order to get the bill paid, although politicians from all three levels of government said they are continuing to work on the issue.

"Several options were put on the table and we are each going to go away now and look a little deeper at what the possibility is for some of these options," said Lisa Dempster, the province's minister of municipal affairs.

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen was less combative after meeting with federal ministers Monday.

New federal regulations require secondary treatment at the facility to remove more solid material out of wastewater before it's pumped into the ocean. The rules also require that secondary system to be online by 2020.

The mayors have said there's no way they can hit that deadline.

On Monday, Champagne deflected a question on whether there will be fines for missing it.

"Well, let's start with what we have today. I think today was a great step in coming together, brainstorming. I'm cautiously optimistic that the discussion we had today are going to be meaningful in trying to find a solution," he said.

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