P3 being considered to help pay for Abbotsford’s new water system

A public private partnership (P3) to create the new Stave Lake Water Supply and Treatment Project is being pursued by council.

Up to $50 million in federal funding could be available if the P3 plan goes through for the $200-million project.

P3s are contracts between government and business for infrastructure and delivery of services. Government remains actively involved throughout the project's life.

Stave Lake could provide Abbotsford and Mission drinking water for the next 30 years. On March 17

Stave Lake could provide Abbotsford and Mission drinking water for the next 30 years. On March 17

A public private partnership (P3) to create the new Stave Lake Water Supply and Treatment Project is being pursued by council.

Up to $50 million in federal funding could be available if the P3 plan goes through for the $200-million project.

P3s are contracts between government and business for infrastructure and delivery of services. Government remains actively involved throughout the project’s life.

“The allure of 25 per cent of the capital funding is tantalizing,” said Mayor George Peary.

A new water supply is needed to meet the demands of both Abbotsford and Mission. Stave Lake was identified as a source of high quality water, in great quantity.

A  water treatment plant is needed, as well as a raw water intake and pump station at the south end of the lake. Also required are 6.6 km of raw water pipeline, 8.7 km of treated water pipeline (from the new treatment plant to the Lougheed Highway in Mission) and 8.6 km of treated water pipeline from Lougheed Highway to MacLure Road in Abbotsford.

The P3 idea first surfaced in October 2010. At that time, Peary said a submission was “likely” to see if it was viable.

A recent report by Tracy Kyle, Abbotsford’s director of water and solid waste, revealed an eligibility request was submitted in June 2010 and in September 2010, PPP Canada requested a business plan.

“No official application has been made,” said Peary, adding it would not be without approval of both councils.

He said a number of options are being looked at.

Critics don’t like the way discussions have been kept out of the public view.

On Thursday (March 10), the water and sewer commission held an in-camera meeting, prior to its regular public meeting, to discuss the P3 plan. Consultants from Deloitte and Touche LLP as well as from CH2M HILL engineering presented their ideas. The public was not allowed to attend and no details have been released.

“This is just an example, just the beginning, of what will be happening  … closed door meetings,” said Lynn Perrin, long-time council critic.

She has several concerns regarding the proposal.

“First and foremost, it’s the commodifying of an essential of life.

“Secondly is this whole secrecy thing,” she said.

Perrin believes financial inquiries will not be answered because the Freedom of Information Act allows information to be withheld when private business interests are involved.

She said the city used this as justification to deny her request for information on the Abbotsford Heat hockey team.

She also thinks the city has paved the way for a P3 deal.

“I believe that the smart meters and the bi-monthly billing have been put in place to grease the business case for the P3.”

If a deal is done, Perrin said there will be “no transparency or accountability.”

But there will always be arguments on both sides of the proposal, according to Peary.

“Some people have a political and philosophical objection to P3s,” he said.

He pointed to the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre as an example of success, calling it the “poster child” for P3s.

“At the end of the day, we need a new water supply. We can all agree on that. It’s just a matter of deciding how we will get there.”

On Thursday (March 17), at 4 p.m., a special public joint council meeting will be held at Abbotsford City Hall to discuss P3 and other options. Both councils will then vote on the recommendations, and the public can voice their concerns, at the regular meetings on April 4.