After a long meeting Monday night, Abbotsford council is delaying its vote on applying for a P3 grant.
The anti-P3 crowd was vocal in its opposition to the idea, often speaking from their seats and even yelling at the stage.
“I’m very disappointed that we’ve gone this far without looking at other options,” said Regina Dalton. “There has to be a plan B.”
Abbotsford and Mission have been examining a proposal to enter into a public/private partnership to create a new water treatment plant at Stave Lake. The project is estimated to cost $300 million, and there is a possibility of close to $72 million in federal funding.
Many speakers felt conservation might be enough to solve Abbotsford’s water dilemma, at least long enough to explore other options.
Aird Flavelle said with increased volume from the city’s Bevan wells, expected to be approved this summer, the city’s water capacity rises from 143 million litres to 170 million a day. On average, the city uses 78 million litres a day. In the summer months, water use rises to the 140-million litre mark.
Other speakers didn’t like the idea of a private company having anything to do with the water system.
“It’s not P3, it’s P4 – private profit, public pays,” said Gerda Peachy.
“It’s my water, our water. It should stay in public hands,” said Moe Gidda.
Murray Jones, president of local 774 (Abbotsford) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), asked council if it could control the private investors if they wanted to sell excess water.
“Do you think that a multi-national corporation will allow the city to tell them to turn the water on or off?” he asked.
The city has maintained that any private investor would not own the water rights and could not sell it – with that option remaining in the public domain.
Jones also addressed a comment Mayor George Peary made last week about getting into a “war” with the union.
“I would like to think that we are engaged in a debate, not a war. And CUPE would welcome any opportunity to meet with you … especially if you have facts that we don’t know,” said Jones.
Tempers began to flare as some speakers became frustrated that councillors would not answer questions. Peary explained to the crowd that council’s role during public input sessions was to listen, not “get into a debate.”
Seventeen people spoke against the P3 idea, some more than once. It was the consistently negative response that prompted Coun. Simon Gibson to suggest delaying the vote until the April 18 meeting.
“I’m relatively comfortable with the P3 idea, but I think it would be prudent to delay the vote so we can consider the comments,” he said.