Mar 01, 2010

Overflow crowd gives thumbs-down to sewage P3

VICTORIA - It was a shutout for public sewage treatment at the Capital Regional District meeting on sewage treatment procurement last night.

Despite the meeting being scheduled at the same time as the Canada/United States women’s hockey game, an overflow crowd came to the CRD offices in downtown Victoria to share their views on how sewage treatment and resource recovery should be designed, built, financed and operated.

Presenters included community and water activists, interested residents, seniors groups, school trustees, environmental activists, retired water workers and local business people. But there was little diversity of opinion on the issue and it was a big thumbs-down for public private partnerships (P3s).

CUPE 1978’s Keep it Public campaign coordinator Kim Manton said it was heartening to see such a broad range of people come forward to speak in support of public and locally-based sewage treatment and resource recovery.

Retired Water Resources Technologist Jim Lloyd warned against a P3 based on his years of experience – where he saw “the bad and the ugly” in wastewater plant designs. He argued strongly that the success of the project depends on the CRD maintaining complete control.

Jenny Farkas, a City of Victoria resident, likened P3s to a “buy now, pay later” scheme. “Buying a couch at the Brick with no money down might seem like a good idea at the time, but higher interest rates and hidden warranty clauses mean that, at the end of the day, we pay many times more than the sticker price for a poor quality product.”

Local engineer John Knappett described P3s as the “death knell of regional contractors.” Knappett, whose company has worked on most of the major sewage systems on Vancouver Island, challenged the methods used by Partnerships BC to evaluate projects. “We are told they eliminate risk but recent P3s in other parts of the world have not shown this to be true. I have also been involved in hundreds of public infrastructure projects over the years that were on time and on budget and I have a really hard time accepting that there is a problem in conventional delivery methods with construction risk,” said Knappett.

Knappett was joined by Greg Baynton, president of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, who talked about the destabilizing impact of P3 projects on local markets.

CUPE national representative Robin Roff encouraged the CRD to fully consider the implications of having a hybrid system – which would see a mix of public and private operations. She raised concerns about how the two systems would be effectively integrated, what kind of services would be duplicated and what the cost implications would be.

Due to a large number of requests to present to the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee another public meeting on procurement has been scheduled for March 10.

A final decision is currently scheduled for March 24 meeting of the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee and then the March 31 meeting of the Capital Regional District Board of Directors.

COPE 491