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Edmonton City Council is considering handing control over sewage and drainage services, representing half the city’s assets, to the city’s wholly-owned utilities corporation, EPCOR. CUPE municipal workers, members of CUPE 30, say the move would reduce city authority and accountability for the vital service. Workers at EPCOR are also CUPE 30 members.

Quick action by CUPE 30 has knocked the city off balance. Local president Alex Grimaldi says EPCOR was clearly feeling the heat from a letter CUPE 30 sent out to all its members criticizing the move. The city responded with a point-by-point response to CUPE’s analysis. A key meeting, originally scheduled for the summer, has been delayed until the fall.

The “alternative utility model” being proposed for city sewage and drainage services comes from a report by multinational consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers. PWC recommends shifting control and ownership of the city’s 5,000 km of sewer lines to EPCOR. CUPE 30 says moving the $11 billion asset into EPCOR’s hands means voters will lose control over city assets.

Sewage and drainage services represent over half of the city asset base,” says Grimaldi. “Giving that asset to an EPCOR board of directors, who are not directly accountable to the voters, makes no sense.”

Grimaldi said such a large transfer of assets shouldn’t be done without broad public debate. Nine years ago, CUPE members and other Edmonton residents were fighting to stop the selloff of EPCOR. While they stopped the privatization, the consolidation of water services in the public utilities corporation could create new interest in privatizing.

EPCOR has been aggressively pursuing opportunities to “grow” its business in British Columbia, highlighting a key problem with corporatization of public utilities. An EPCOR official spoke at a recent pro-P3 conference in B.C. And EPCOR continues to seek management and operation contracts for community water systems, creating concern about loss of local control and accountability.