While the City of Abbotsford and bulk of council has thrown its support behind the proposed P3 Stave Lake water project, one councillor is voicing concerns in advance of the referendum on the issue during the upcoming municipal election.
Coun. Patricia Ross is the sole Abbotsford councillor to oppose proceeding with the Stave Lake project as planned.
Abbotsford is seeking to establish a $300million water source and treatment centre at Stave Lake by 2016, and has applied for federal funding from Public Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada) for up to 25 per cent of the cost. The plan involves the city looking to the private sector to design, build and partially finance the project and entering into a 25-or 30-year contract with a private operator to run the new water facility.
In April, The District of Mission council – Abbotsford’s partner in the Mission Water Sewer Commission – voted to reject the P3 procurement model.
Abbotsford has decided to proceed with the P3 water project without Mission.
The city launched a $200,000 public education campaign last week to educate the public about Abbotsford’s water needs and convince civic voters the P3 model is the best way to proceed.
Ross doesn’t reject that Stave Lake is the best location to meet Abbotsford’s water needs, but expressed concerns with how the city was proceeding with the P3 project.
Going ahead without the support of Mission is a violation of the “gentleman’s agreement” that was in place to explore other options if the P3 model posed problems, Ross said.
Abbotsford moving forward despite Mission’s objections feels like a “hostile takeover” of the Stave Lake source, Ross said.
Stave Lake and the property to build the water mains are in Mission, she noted.
“We are almost inviting legal challenges, protests, arbitration and we’ll probably have to expropriate land. It doesn’t help us to behave in this manner.”
Ross also expressed concern around the city’s capacity to hold a private operator of the water facility accountable should it not meet contract expectations.
The councillor had also wanted the public presented with two rather than one referendum question: one asking for support for the P3 model, with the other offering a traditional design-build option.
Mayor George Peary and remaining councillors have made clear they see the P3 project as the best, most cost-effective option for meeting Abbotsford’s future water needs.
Peary, AMWSC chair, said he wasn’t privy to any prior agreement with Mission around the P3 process.
Senior levels of government have made clear they favour of the P3 funding model, he said.
Water is not being privatized, the infrastructure and water quality would remain under Abbotsford’s control, but the city can pass the construction and operation risks onto the private sector, he said.
Ross said she respects fellow councillors’ positions but felt compelled to speak.