There’s plenty to be proud of when you take a glance back at the year that was 2021 in Selkirk, with the city seeing its largest ever capital project come to fruition in spectacular fashion, and important infrastructure projects getting done that will improve your ride, your stride and prevent sewage from backing up into your basement.
Committed to providing services
The path back to what we all knew as normal life pre-COVID has proven to be fraught with deviant landmines that had the whole world doing a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of dance. It was no different in Selkirk, but the city developed a COVID policy to ensure the safety of its citizens and staff and rolled with the punches.
For Mayor Larry Johannson, as tough a time as it’s been, it’s also demonstrated that the city he loves, and the people who call it home, are top notch.
“I think when COVID first started, a lot of us figured that first, it might not ever make here, and second, if it did, it would be a blip that would be over quickly. But we were wrong and for almost two years now we’ve been trying to find our way out and I have to say I’m so proud of my city,” Johannson said.
“I’m proud of city staff who worked hard to keep the city running when COVID was at its peak and we were working remotely and really still wondering what this pandemic was all about. I’m proud of the people of Selkirk, who did their part too, and it really showed that we are a strong city but we’re a small town too, where everyone cares about their neighbour and is willing to do the right thing. I’m like everyone else, I want this to be over, and it will be one day, but for now, we’re all going to keep doing what we need to do to keep each other safe, and we’re going to continue to push forward.”
The city followed changing health orders and remained committed to providing programming and recreation services. The pandemic saw a huge increase in park usage and the city’s park staff responded well.
Arts, Culture and Recreation
Selkirk added a sport court at the Kin Centre which now includes basketball nets and pickleball courts and an equipment library that citizens can use. Programming, cancelled due to COVID the year before, returned, some in person and some virtual. Camp Awesome returned, and families applauded en masse, and the first ever Culture Days took place over three days and was well received. Canada Day and the Waterfront Concert Series were both virtual.
It was a big year for culture in Selkirk, with the city purchasing the Garry Theatre. A steering committee is being established and there will be public consultation in 2022 to develop a plan for the Garry in its new incarnation. The city’s museum that is virtual also continued to expand this year.
Sustainable Economic Development
Earlier this month, Calgary-based Canadian Premium Sand (CPS) announced it is opening a new facility in Selkirk to manufacture glass for the solar industry. Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol said the city’s investments in infrastructure and good, solid data – found on SelkirkNow.ca, a world-class business data platform that pulls together the critical information that investors and site selectors need to consider Selkirk – were key to CPS choosing Selkirk. The facility will represent the largest single industrial investment in Selkirk in over 100 years. CPS projects it will create 300 direct jobs and there is the potential for many spin offs. The economic impact for Selkirk and Manitoba as a whole, is significant.
Largest ever capital project ever paying off
In 2021 the city’s new $40 million wastewater treatment plant opened and in the early going is proving that the city is an environmental leader and the planning that went into the largest capital investment was well worth it.
The plant treats effluent to a higher standard than provincial regulations and it can handle Selkirk’s present-day population and up to 11,000 more from day one, with the capacity to cost-effectively and easily expand in the future.
The plant uses Canadian company Fibracast’s membrane technology and is the first full-scale plant of this size in Canada.
This July, the city’s Utilities Manager, Raven Sharma, put the plant’s treated effluent on display during a tour of the new facility for mayor and council to see, and the results were impressive.
“It is the clearest treated wastewater I have ever seen,” Sharma said while showing off a glass that contained absolutely clear treated effluent that looked like it came out of a drinking tap.
“I’ve never treated wastewater that clear, so by using state-of-the-art technology, that’s the type of wastewater that we’re putting back into the environment. That’s cool.”
The new plant was built smart and doesn’t have excessive tank capacity – something that would have inflated the price tag for equipment that would only be used a few days a year during heavy rainfall events when wastewater and storm runoff from the city’s remaining combined sewers increase the flow to the plant.
Instead, the plant makes use of pumps and existing infrastructure in the form of five decant lagoons located north of Hwy. 4. The excess flow arrives at the plant and will be pumped to the decant lagoons where it will be stored until the rain event is over; it will then be pumped back to the plant and treated.
Improving the wellbeing and quality of life for all residents
The city has been and continues to work towards separating its sewers, and this year separated on Sophia Street and will continue to make sewer separation a priority as outlined in its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.
The city approved its first Active Transportation (AT) Strategy this year and it will assist in the design and management of the AT infrastructure network and help achieve low carbon economy goals, all the while creating safe and vibrant neighbourhoods that meet the current and future needs of the city’s citizens.
Selkirk’s AT infrastructure network includes its AT pathways (designated bike lanes, multi-use pathways and recreational pathways) that total 2.5 kms and includes all of Manitoba, Vaughan and Annie, and its sidewalk network that is 56 km and runs through all residential neighbourhoods to schools, parks, shopping and commercial districts. The AT pathways will be expanded by 3.6 km beginning next year.
Decarbonizing our city
The city has been tracking annual corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions since 2016 and this year began tabulating the data for community-wide emissions for 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Those figures will be reported to the international transparency and GHG accounting body, the Carbon Disclosure Project. The numbers show that more than a third of Selkirk’s emissions come from cars and trucks. And so, for this city, and really any jurisdiction in Canada, a mix of carbon-free transportation solutions must be pursued to lower emissions. Active transportation will be a key piece of the puzzle for any city that’s serious about tackling climate change.
Controlling our economic destiny with intentional growth
Development in 2021 continued to be strong and Johannson said that’s a trend that will continue.
“We’ve done the work ahead of time to make sure that Selkirk controls Selkirk’s destiny,” the mayor said.
“Vaughan Avenue West is really taking off and people are excited to be moving to Selkirk. We don’t believe in development for development’s sake, we believe in abiding by our strategic plan and growing our community in a sustainable way and I think others are seeing that and they want to be part of it.”
In April, Selkirk took control of its destiny to an even greater extent and applied to the province to request to leave the Red River Planning District boundaries and jurisdiction.
Johannson said it wasn’t a move that was made lightly, and a March public hearing held to gauge the level of support for repatriating land-use planning and construction permitting from the RRPD and doing it in house told the city plenty.
“The feedback we received at the hearing was unanimously in favour of repatriation, which is consistent with the informal feedback we had been hearing from our citizens and developers for many years” said Mayor Johannson.
The government has directed the city to work with RRPD to complete a mutually agreed upon agreement that defines specific separation details.
Ready for expansion
This year became the year decisions made a decade ago paid off for Selkirk residents who faced no watering restrictions in summer months when many other communities in the province had limitations on watering lawns and tip lines for neighbours to report neighbours who weren’t complying.
Selkirk had no need to enforce watering restrictions, thanks to forward thinking, demand management and asset management strategies that have the city prepared with a stable supply of water for today and tomorrow.
The forward thinking began in 2011 when the city expanded its water treatment plant. In 2016 Selkirk partnered with the Manitoba Water Services Board (MWSB) on an investment of $2.5 million and drilled two supplemental wells in the RM of St. Andrews to complement the four wells in Selkirk that were already serving the city. An 11 km pipeline was built – Selkirk’s version of the Winnipeg –Shoal Lake aqueduct – and carries the water to Selkirk.
Johannson said Selkirk has invested millions of dollars in the critical, though not always headline-grabbing, municipal water infrastructure
“We’re ready for expansion, we’re ready for growth and because we’ve made strategic infrastructure investments, investors and developers who are thinking of investing in Selkirk can feel confident that their investments are secure because we’ve got the capacity to supply their developments,” he said.
“And residents, who’ve invested their life savings in their homes, they should feel confident that the infrastructure is here to support them. The value of their homes isn’t going to be sideswiped by a failing water system or failing wastewater system.”
The city also managed to install a lift station in its business park, hire the province’s first Energy Efficiency Advocate, install a net that catches garbage before it can enter the Red River, purchase a generator for the water treatment plant, improve its urban canopy and completely restored the city’s iconic water tower.