An environmental group working to promote and improve the health of Winnipeg’s smallest river is praising a much-needed funding boost from the city to resume its operations.
Earlier this month, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes earmarked $28,000 from his ward’s office budget to Save Our Seine Environment Inc. (SOS), a not-for-profit group that has acted as stewards to the Seine River and its riverbanks for more than 20 years.
“This is really the first time the City of Winnipeg has stepped up and helped us,” former SOS president David Watston told The Uniter.
“The city is finally paying its fair share.”
SOS began in 1990, and traditionally received funding from the provincial and federal governments.
However, SOS was forced to lay off a staff member in fall 2011 as funding dried up.
The new funding will go toward re-hiring a staff member to co-ordinate volunteers, apply for grants, network with government and educate school children.
The group is looking to establish a program with Louis Riel School Division, using the Seine River to educate teachers and students about environmental degradation and protection.
“One of the hardest things for groups is getting funding for staff,” Watson said.
Mayes said he was impressed by SOS’s transformation of the Seine River and surrounding land while campaigning for his ward’s seat in a byelection in 2011.
That year, the organization was responsible for, among other projects, a river area cleanup, Riparian tree plantings and the installation of five spawning shoals to improve fish habitat.
“I wanted to get them some stable funding, as stable as I could give,” said Mayes, adding he hopes to make a similar pledge next year and again if he is re-elected.
Mayes’s pledge raised eyebrows across city hall and required approval from city council’s governance committee, which must approve all office budget expenses more than $5,000.
The pledge came weeks after city council approved its 2013-14 operating and capital budgets, which included a controversial $40,000 increase to councillor office budgets as museums and non-profits faced cuts to grant funding and property owners were forced to stomach a four per cent property tax increase.
Although the monies cannot, as the SOS mission statement proposes, change the environmental behaviour of private industry, governments and the general public, Watson called it a step in the right direction.
Although the organization encourages the city to limit development in the area, SOS benefits the city not only environmentally, but also financially, he said.
Watson expects continued cleaning and maintenance of the Seine River and its riverbanks to increase the value of properties being sold nearby.
“By increasing the beauty of the area, we’re making the properties much more attractive,” he said.
Published in Volume 67, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 21, 2013)