Floodgates open on P3 water proposal in advance of Abbotsford civic elections

By Rochelle Baker, Abbotsford Times October 4, 2011

On November 19, 2011, Abbotsford residents will vote on Phase 1 of the Stave Lake Project, which will provide an additional 100 million litres of water per day.

METRO VANCOUVER — The city of Abbotsford launched its public education campaign Monday around the proposed P3 water project at Stave Lake in advance of a public referendum on the issue during the upcoming municipal elections.

The scope of the public private partnership (P3) plan, projected to total approximately $290 million, includes a new water source, pump station, treatment plant and water mains based at Stave Lake in Mission.

Mayor George Peary noted under the Community Charter the city must seek voters’ approval to authorize the borrowing of capital and enter into the long-term agreement necessary for the project to go ahead.

“It’s the ultimate in participatory democracy,” said Peary.

“We’ll require the assent of the voting public to undertake the project.”

Voters will determine whether to grant the city authorization to borrow $230 million necessary for the project during civic election day on Nov. 19.

The city hopes to secure up to 25 per cent of the funding, or the remaining $61 million, from the federal government through the Public Private Partnerships Canada.

Staff and council believe the P3 proposal, which sees the successful bidder design, build, partially finance and operate the system for up to 30 years, to be the most cost-effective way to secure a critical new water source, said Peary.

“This project isn’t something we dreamt up yesterday. It’s been in the works for years,” he said, stressing it’s critical Abbotsford secure a new water source by 2016 in order to meet increasing demand.

“If we don’t have another source of water in five years it will be a very different city.”

Even with conservation efforts, existing water sources will not be able to meet Abbotsford’s water needs, Peary said.

The public education campaign – which was launched at Calais Farms, a bell pepper farm on Matsqui Prairie, to highlight the fact that Abbotsford’s economic vitality and production is tied to water – will ensure the public has the information necessary to make an informed decision when voting in the referendum, said Peary.

Critics of the P3 water proposal and attendant campaign, particularly the group Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford, are calling on the city to alternatively seek public funding and not allow a private company to operate the system.

Water Watch member Lynn Perrin said the information campaign was a form of “fear mongering” about Abbotsford’s water supply to convince the city’s voters to privatize their water for up to 30 years.

Perrin said the city is ignoring any other alternatives to the P3 approach.

Many B.C. mayors and councillors voted at the recent annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) conference to support a resolution to promote public water and wastewater services, and call on the federal government to provide adequate funding so the vital resource services remain in public hands, she said.

City staff and councillors have been evaluating the problem of meeting the increased demand for water for years, and after weighing all the possible options and research, they feel the P3 proposal is the best way forward, said Peary.

“Do we have a position [on the P3 proposal]?” he asked.

“Yes. We are absolutely promoting the Stave Lake proposal unashamedly. Our staff and council believe what we are putting forward is the best option and we will answer any questions people have on the issue.”

If approved, the Stave Lake water project is expected to provide Abbotsford with an additional 100 million litres a day by 2016, which would meet the city’s needs until 2031.

The city has also released the referendum question on the issue during the municipal elections on Nov. 19.

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