Edmonton/>/> city council has postponed its decision on transferring of one of the city’s main wastewater treatment plants to EPCOR, a city-owned utility that operates as a private corporation. The move would have taken the wastewater operations out of the direct oversight of elected officials.
The Keep Drainage Edmonton coalition, which included CUPE and many community allies, argued the handover of the Gold Bar wastewater treatment plant could mean higher fees and less oversight, service and accountability. They mobilized to press their point through lobbying, presentations to the city budget committee and newspaper ads.
Some city councilors agreed, including one who said “we’re giving them a bargain basement deal on an absolutely core piece of municipal infrastructure.” The plan, developed without any public debate or consultation, would have seen the plant handed over for a $75 million ‘transfer fee’ – despite the plant’s estimated $700 million replacement value.
CUPE 30, which represents Edmonton/>/> outside municipal workers including EPCOR staff, played an active part in the fightback through the Coalition of Edmonton Civic Unions. The unions were in turn part of the broader Keep Drainage Edmonton coalition, which came together three years ago to block a bid to transfer of the city’s entire sewage and drainage services.
The move by council runs directly counter to a decision made three years ago to keep Edmonton/>/>’s entire drainage system under direct public control. The Keep Drainage Edmonton coalition was key in stopping the transfer of the city’s entire drainage system to EPCOR. Council’s decision was subsequently backed by its own consultant, who concluded it was in Edmonton/>/>’s best interest to keep the utility in city hands.
This time around, the transfer plan developed behind closed doors and was headed to a final vote without full public discussion.
Now, the city will have to hold public consultations in January. The persistent push to hand over the city’s wastewater infrastructure makes sense in light of EPCOR CEO Don Lowry’s promise to “try, try again” after losing the 2005 bid.
EPCOR is wholly owned by the city of Edmonton/>/> but operates as a corporatized entity at arm’s length from elected officials. A 2005 Parkland Institute study of EPCOR raised many questions about ownership, accountability and the public interest.
The company has been aggressively pursuing water privatization through P3 deals, particularly in British Columbia/>/>. A strong public campaign recently kept EPCOR out of Willams/> Lake/> BC/>/>’s water. The community will keep operating and maintaining its drinking water system publicly.