Despite overwhelming opposition, Edmonton city council has narrowly approved the sale of a key sewage treatment plant.
The 7-6 decision to sell the Gold Bar plant comes in spite of a recent warning that the selloff could create problems for the city under international trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The plant has been sold to Epcor, a city-owned utility that operates as a private corporation. The company has been aggressively pursuing water privatization through P3 deals, particularly in British Columbia. The company plans to use its ownership of the Gold Bar plant to win wastewater privatization contracts in other communities. EPCOR intends to leverage the plant and other assets to maximize its borrowing capacity and to use that new capital to expand its business interests elsewhere, exposing the city to financial risk.
A broad coalition of community and labour groups, including CUPE, won a delay of the sale last fall. The Keep Drainage Edmonton coalition argued the loss of ownership and control would reduce public oversight and transparency of a crucial public service. The coalition’s latest briefing includes important environmental arguments to keep the plant public.
The coalition’s analysis shows the sale is based on a flawed business case. The city’s plan, developed without any public debate or consultation, gives away the plant in exchange for a $75 million ‘transfer fee’ – despite the plant’s estimated $700 million replacement value.
The deal exposes the plant to the risk of all-out privatization. As EPCOR expands its reach, it becomes more appealing to corporations in search of a sure-fire return on investment. Plans to privatize EPCOR were defeated by a single vote in 1999.