Questions about Abbotsford’s P3 water project

It concerns me that I do not know enough about the P3 water project to make an informed decision. Even more troubling, I wonder if Abbotsford council knows enough about it.

It concerns me that I do not know enough about the P3 water project to make an informed decision. Even more troubling, I wonder if Abbotsford council knows enough about it.

The website created to promote the project makes it seem too easy. There is an answer for every question – at least every question the promoters want to answer. There seems to be a firm conviction that every possible problem has been considered and dealt with.

But citizens have experience with contracts that have promised a lot and delivered headaches. The sewer contract with the City of Sumas almost delivered us into the hands of the infamous SE2 gas-fired power plant. Another example of a contract disappointment is our agreement with the Abbotsford Heat. Instead of generating money, it is burning it.

Privatization of water is a multi-billion dollar business. All over the globe, cities have contracted water companies to operate their systems. In some cases, the companies are providing satisfactory service. According to Alex Prud’homme in The Ripple Effect, there have also been problems. Atlanta, Georgia cancelled its contract because people were “complaining of rate increases, brown water coming from their pipes, a dearth of maintenance, and terrible customer service.”

Paris, France also took back control of its water system. In several cases, mayors have faced litigation and even prison time for accepting bribes from water companies. Prud’homme reports that protests against the practises of water companies have sprung up in Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.

Fredrik Segerfeldt of the Cato Institute, writing in the Financial Times, admitted that “many privatizations have been troublesome. Proper supervision has been missing. Regulatory bodies charged with enforcing contracts have been non-existent, incompetent or too weak. Contracts have been badly designed and bidding processes sloppy.”

Private water companies have deep pockets. They can hire the most skilled lawyers. Also, they have plenty of experience in designing contracts that are to their benefit.

Can our city compete at this level?

My mind is still open concerning P3, but I’d like to know more about the 2009 report to the Abbotsford-Mission Water and Sewer Commission. According to Lynn Perrin of Water Watch, this report states that Abbotsford will have enough water until 2031. I’d also like to know how the city can assure us of the total cost, even though as yet there seems to be not even a hint of a contract. And then there is the matter of likely cost overruns.

We may have to go somewhere other than the consulting firm, hired on our behalf with our tax dollars, to get beyond the easy answers.

Art Martens

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