The city has launched a $200,000 information campaign on the Stave Lake Water Project, set for referendum Nov. 19.
Calling it an awareness project, the city has hired the consulting firm, The Pace Group, as well as 13 part-time staff to help spread the message regarding the city’s current water situation.
“The fact of the matter is, the city is going to need a new water supply by 2016,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said at Monday’s campaign launch, held at Calais Farms.
Jay Teichroeb, the city’s general manager of economic development and planning services, said the “biggest challenge is to make people informed.”
He also said a recent phone poll performed for the city (the results of which are scheduled to be released Monday at city council) indicated that many respondents didn’t even know about the water issue.
According to a city release, “by building the necessary water delivery infrastructure through a public-private partnership (P3), the proposed $291-million project is eligible for a federal funding contribution of $61 million.
“The estimated maximum cost of the Stave Lake Project as a traditional (non-P3) procurement is $328 million and is not eligible for the same federal funding.”
Peary said both the federal and provincial governments indicated no other funding is currently available.
“The federal government directed us to P3 ... they said that’s where the funding is,” said Peary.
By going to referendum, “the public will get a chance to decide,” and the city campaign will help them make an informed decision, said Peary.
“There’s a lot at stake here ... We have pulled out all the stops. We will be promoting this, encouraging people to take an interest.”
The program has a website, www.stavelakeproject.ca, along with an exhibit tour that will be going to public locations in the city in coming weeks.
P3 projects are often controversial, as some people fear private businesses involvement in what is normally a public-sector industry.
The Stave Lake project would see a private company build and operate a water treatment plant for 25 years. This would be a secondary water supply as Abbotsford already uses Norrish Creek.
Critics of the P3 proposal say the city’s campaign is more “fear-mongering” than informative.
Lynn Perrin, spokesperson for Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford, pointed to a 2009 report presented to the Abbotsford-Mission Water and Sewer Commission, stating the current water supply is sufficient – as long as conservation measures take place – until 2031.
The group is opposed to what they call “the privatization of water,” quoting an Environics national poll which indicated 87 per cent of Canadians “think our drinking water is a precious natural resource that should remain public and be protected from private corporate interest.”
The city counters that argument, claiming the water will always be publicly owned.
“It’s important for everyone to know that the City of Abbotsford will always be in control of water quality testing, the water distribution from the new plant, as well as retain all control and ownership over the treatment facility and the water supply,” said Peary.
“At no time will a private operator ever have the ability to set water rates, or sell any of the water from the plant.”
But critics aren’t convinced. Perrin said there is plenty of time to consider other options, including future federal funding possibilities.
Water Watch is promoting a no vote for the referendum.
The city is scheduled to vote on the wording of the referendum at Monday’s meeting.
The city is expecting an announcement from PPP Canada on its funding request in the coming weeks.
A report indicates officials first applied to PPP Canada for funding in June 2010, 10 months before Abbotsford council voted to move forward with the P3 Stave Lake Water Project.
Critics of the P3 proposal find that worrisome.
Perrin said the city goes against the community charter “with impunity."
“There are so many questions that have not been answered,” she said.
But city manager Frank Pizzuto said there is nothing unusual about the timeline.
“The city applies for all kinds of grants to see if there are any opportunities for funding out there.”
He said the city made an initial application to see if there was senior government interest.
When council voted in April 2011 to approve moving forward with the P3 endeavour, a formal funding request was made.
The referendum question contains a federal funding amount of $61 million, and Pizzuto said if the city does not receive that amount, it would make the referendum “null and void.”
The referendum question reads:
"Are you in favour of the City of Abbotsford developing a new water supply source at Stave Lake (consisting of a water intake in Stave Lake, a pump station, a water treatment plant and a water transmission line from Stave Lake to the City of Abbotsford) to ensure that the current and long term needs of the City of Abbotsford are met by:
"the city entering into a partnering agreement with a private sector partner that will design, build, partially finance and operate a water supply and distribution system from Stave Lake for up to thirty years, incurring a maximum capital cost and liability to the city of $291,000,000 of which up to $61,000,000 will be paid for through a federal contribution; and
"Abbotsford City Council adopting bylaw No. 2105-2011 'Stave Lake Water System Loan Authorization Bylaw, 2011' to authorize the borrowing by the City of the remaining $230,000,000 for up to to thirty years, for the capital cost of constructing the water supply and distribution system from Stave Lake?"
Yes or No