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Turning a blind eye to the ugly record of sewage spills and buck-passing, Hamilton city councillors voted January 28 to seek private bids to operate the citys water and sewage treatment plants for another ten years. The move is in defiance of strong opposition from CUPE members, community allies and Hamilton Water Watch to bring the operation back in-house. The current contract will expire by the end of 2004.

P3s opponents spoke out against the fiasco, citing the fact that five different companies have held the contract over the past ten years. Responsibility for the citys water has passed from a local operator to a subsidiary of Enron to a German multinational. To no ones surprise, the for-profit operation has been responsible for a massive sewage spill and continues to raise serious environmental concerns.

Hamiltons mayor and some municipal officials have been pushing for a new round of P3 contracts, claiming a yet-to-be-proven $9 million savings over the past decade. At the same time, local media report there is an outstanding claim of $8 million filed against the city by the current contractor. Yet supporters of public water were denied full financial disclosure before the voting took place. P3s opponents argue that continuing the water contract will mean higher costs and greater risk.

CUPE members have vowed to continue their fight, working with Hamilton Water Watch and other groups to regain public control over Hamiltons water and sewage operations.