ABBOTSFORD—The city of Abbotsford staged a telephone town hall meeting Thursday night in its bid to convince voters they should hand over their drinking water to a Public Private Partnership.
At its peak, a reported 7,000 city residents tuned into the call, with about 40 questions posed. Many of those questions focused on concerns with rising water rates and uncertainty around P3 operational and cost control when dealing with a private partner. Some callers also brought up the fractured relationship with neighbouring Mission, where the Stave Lake water source is located.
“This must finally be part of the city’s promised public consultation on the future of our water supply,” says Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford spokesperson Lynn Perrin. It’s a shame it has come long after the city council secretly approved the deal. What we needed were traditional town hall meetings with a public conversation. This city should have asked for public input and listened to the response.”
Perrin says Abbotsford citizens have to get out and vote down this P3 scheme, especially in light of claims like those made by the city during the telephone town hall. “These claims about an impending water shortage, about rising water rates, and that a P3 would be cheaper to operate are simply not backed up by the facts,” says Perrin.
Even with the recently announced $67.5 million federal grant (of public money) a P3 would still be more expensive to operate than a public system, according to the WWMA.
Abbotsford's business case by Deloitte and Touche estimates it would cost $2.36 million per year for a P3 while a public operation would cost only $1.72 million, a savings of 28 per cent.
On the ‘water shortage,’ former Abbotsford Chief Engineer Ed Regts pulls no punches. He says that current water sources for Abbotsford are not even close to capacity and that they are "more than capable of providing enough water for Abbotsford until at least 2020."
A no vote in the upcoming Nov. 19 referendum would create the opportunity for Abbotsford to consider better options for a new water source.
Public options exist and ideally Abbotsford and Mission would work together and, a regional solution could be found for the two neighbouring communities.
“Other options exist, Stave Lake is not the only choice” said WWMA spokesperson Janet Chalmers, “Stave Lake was chosen out of 19 projects because it could support the P3. Voting no in the referendum will allow Abbotsford to explore other public options that will be more economical, transparent and environmentally friendly.”