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Liberals mum on St. John’s wastewater funding

<p>The Riverhead wastewater treatment plant off Southside Road in St. John’s.</p>
The Riverhead wastewater treatment plant off Southside Road in St. John’s. - Joe Gibbons

Despite comments at the Liberal convention in Gander earlier this month — celebrating investments in new wastewater lines and treatment facilities in the province — there is still no word on funding for a new, legally required, secondary wastewater treatment plant in St. John’s.

But there are some suggestions of money on the way.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a campaign stop in Mount Pearl in 2015, he criticized the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for pushing changes in new environmental wastewater standards, without money to help municipalities respond.

The wastewater treatment facility in St. John’s needs an upgrade to include another round of treatment for sewer and storm water at site, before it is released into the city harbour.

When the existing treatment facility on Southside Road was built, it was successful in ridding the city of its infamous harbour “bubble,” ending the release of raw sewage into the surrounding environment.

But for the amounts of wastewater coming through the system in St. John’s, federal regulations demand more.

The secondary treatment project was estimated back in 2015 to need roughly $200 million in capital, being a significant commitment. While campaigning, Trudeau said a Liberal government would “provide the federal share of the needed $200 million,” according to a report from the day, in The Telegram archives.

But that money has not yet come.

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“No formal announcement has yet been planned, as the finer details of an agreement are still being determined,” stated the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, in an emailed response to questions.

For his part, St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen confirmed, through a city spokeswoman, the city council is still waiting for the money that would make the wastewater project possible.

Two years ago, The Telegram reported the project would have to get underway in short order, if the city were to remain within the leeway time offered by the federal Department of Environment, to come into compliance with wastewater regulations, with the city having only until 2020 to have new waste treatment in place.

Including blasting on the Southside, the treatment facility add-on is expected to take years to construct and get up and running.

At the Liberal convention, MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl and Minister for Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan highlighted federal investments in infrastructure. He also joked about being ready to cut a ribbon in front of the facility in St. John’s.

On Friday, he said he’s looking forward to an announcement on what will be happening in St. John’s.

“We’re very sensitive to (the timeline) and I’m in constant contact with Mayor Breen and, of course, always with the province,” he said.

Apart from investments in separation of wastewater and sewage lines in the province (being a help in measuring waste and managing wastewater treatment and release), several treatment plant projects have already received support from the federal government. In 2017, for example, an announcement was made of funding for a treatment facility in Gander, with an $11.7-million commitment from the federal government, $10. 4 million from the provincial government and $13 million from the Town of Gander. The hope was to have that project completed in 2019.

ashley.fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

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