Like it or lump it: province reneges on sewer funding
The province is being accused of reneging on its promise to fund 90 per cent of a yet-completed regional sewage line.
Dennis Cooper, chairman of the South Red Deer Regional Wastewater Commission, said Alberta Transportation recently offered the commission a maximum of $10 million towards completion of the project, which is about three-quarters done.
But that falls about $10 million short of what is needed and amounts to the province’s share slipping to about 80 per cent of the cost of the Olds-to-Red Deer sewer line.
Cooper said the project was begun eight years ago under Alberta’s Water For Life Strategy, which promised 90 per cent provincial funding.
“It’s disappointing because of the fact you have a plan, this is what’s going to happen, then all of a sudden (the province says), ‘Nope, we’re changing our minds.’
“I feel at this present time it’s unfair for the province to download on municipalities in this manner.”
In a special meeting last week, the commission voted to reject the $10-million offer and request a meeting with Transportation Minister Ric McIver to work out alternatives.
“I’m disappointed with the province. There are many other ways (other) than taking this hard-nosed stance, saying, ‘Oh, just dump it on the residents.’
“That’s just not how the Alberta government should treat Albertans.”
There are other options available, he said. The province could suggest municipalities finance a greater share of the project on the understanding the provincial government pays that back when its finances are in better shape.
Municipalities are already borrowing $14 million to finish the sewer line, which was originally estimated to cost $107 million, said Cooper. The price tag has since climbed to an estimated $130 million to $135 million.
Alberta Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Beasley Hosker said the province has provided $109 million to the project so far.
“It’s very unusual for us to receive a request for funding to cover cost overruns above and beyond what has already been approved. However, after consideration in this case we did provide an additional $10 million for this project,” said Beasley Hosker.
She could not speak to the commission’s view that the province was backing out of its pledge. The minister will respond personally to the commission when its letter is received.
Cooper said while costs have risen, that’s hardly surprising given inflation in construction costs. Some of those rising costs can be attributed to municipalities agreeing to provincial requests to spread the project out over more years.
Transportation officials had previously reassured the commission the overruns would be covered under the 90/10 arrangement, he said.
He also notes the province required municipalities along the 90-km route to join the project. Alberta Environment wanted a regional sewer line to protect the Red Deer River by taking all sewage to Red Deer for treatment instead of seeing communities build their own treatment plants upriver.
Cooper said some municipalities have threatened to quit the commission.