Morden-Winkler MLA, and Manitoba Finance minister, Cameron Friesen, says officials have been "working feverishly" these last few weeks trying to find ways to address the funding gap between tenders for the proposed Winkler/Stanley wastewater treatment plant project, and the funding approved through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICP). The significant discrepancy, due to rising inflation, forced municipal officials to scrap the project's tendering process, and send it back to the design phase.
"We met with the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), we brought an official out from the CIB, who met with the City of Winkler and the R.M. of Stanley to talk about additional ways they could fund above the wastewater project," explained Friesen. "This is a triple-funded project with the federal, provincial and municipal governments all funding. But, at this point in time, it is Winkler's decision."
In an earlier interview, Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said this situation left the City with a massive project it is not prepared for, nor did officials feel the City had the borrowing capacity to take on this additional burden.
As a result, Winkler City Council has passed a resolution asking the federal and provincial governments to have an openness to look at the overall cost of the project, and adjust their contribution to cover their portion.
"The issue isn't Winkler's project in-specific," stated Friesen, noting it is one of many the Province has been advancing through ICP. "And we need to be very concerned about precedent. What we do for Winkler, we would then have to do for everyone else, and there are dozens of these projects in the queue. Our Government is making excellent investments in infrastructure," he added. "We committed to $1.5 billion in strategic infrastructure investments over the next three years, so the issue isn't somehow we're not spending, we'll spend the money, and we need the growth in our communities. The problem is this is a really significant escalation in pricing, the likes of which the Western world has not seen for years. We are working very hard, rolling up our sleeves to understand how big is this challenge? How big could it become? And how do we best respond to build the infrastructure Manitoba needs?"
Friesen added, this doesn't mean it's game over for the project, noting it's too big and important for the region. He says they will continue to work together to try and meet the challenge.
"This is a very considerable project for our region. We need it to ensure future growth. If we do not have this wastewater expanded capacity for Stanley, Winkler and Morden, our cities will not be able to grow. We will not get license approval for new subdivisions, new businesses, and we rely on that growth to keep going."
Meantime, the City of Winkler has sent a letter to all members of the Pembina Valley Reeves and Mayors (PVRAM) asking for support on a similar resolution being presented at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities' Central District meeting in June. The motion calls for the federal and provincial governments to reconsider their contributions to all affected projects under ICP. According to Harder, confirmation of support has already been received from the Town of Altona, the City of Morden, and the R.M. of Morris.
"It's a good step for them to take as a gesture, as a signal that they all care about this," commented Friesen. "I would want to remind everyone federal/provincial co-share infrastructure programs are complex, and the contracts that have been signed are complex. It is not easy to open up those multi-lateral negotiated agreements, and somehow start to make changes to them."
The challenge, added Friesen, is to figure out how to build the needed infrastructure in an environment where all costs are going up.