About 80 people came together at the Sooke Community Hall on May 30 to listen to what a group of concerned citizens had to say about the proposed 21-year sewer franchise agreement between EPCOR and the District of Sooke.
The meeting was organized by Wendal Milne, Herb Haldane, Rick Kasper and Gail Hall.
At the beginning of the meeting Wendal Milne, candidate for mayor in the November election, stated that the group was formed because they were “concerned with the process embarked on by the District of Sooke.”
Issues of concern included: a fair deal with the best bang for the buck; a cost of more than $21 million of taxpayers money over 21 years; no consideration of other options; no tendering process; and concern of the operating costs of the system, which are almost double from the 2006 projected costs for 2011.
In 2004 the contract was a competitive process.
In 2004, Sooke taxpayers rejected a similar 21-year deal.
It was stated that the City of Edmonton, who owns EPCOR, rejected long-term deals with EPCOR three times. The City of Edmonton also rejected a proposal by EPCOR to take over the city’s drainage and sewer systems (valued at $7.8 billion) in 2005, citing concerns related to the divesting of public assets. EPCOR is a corporation operating as a private company. In 2006 EPCOR Utilities, Inc. reported earnings of $569 million in the first six months of 2006.
Former councillor Rick Kasper said in 2006 all councillors received information on the five-year agreement with EPCOR and those included Ron Dumont, Sheila Beech and Mayor Janet Evans.
“Those elected in 2008 did not receive a copy of the 2006 document, they made decisions in complete isolation,” said Kasper. “If they had the background information, we wouldn’t be having this meeting tonight. I’m not satisfied that is why I crawled out of the woodwork.”
Councillor Herb Haldane stated that there are “irregularities in the 21-year agreement.”
He mentioned that fact that a private company (EPCOR) was coming in and putting up money for infrastructure, but a problem arises due to the fact that the district owns the assets, the plant, the pipes, etc.
Haldane said that the lawyer who drafted up a manual on exclusive rights agreements stated, “do not go into process without a Request for Proposal (RFP) and a consultant.” He is the same lawyer used by the district to draw up the 21-year agreement.
“We’re doomed to fail,” said Haldane. “EPCOR is a fantastic company, but we don’t know if we are getting the best deal.”
He said a public/private partnership is set up so both parties win but he said EPCOR is the only winner if there is an 87 per cent cost increase.
Ellen Lewers stated that if the district were to opt out of the agreement after five years the taxpayers would be liable for the existing deficit, $500,000 for the concession fee; and $924,752 (2011 figure) to EPCOR after 12 months notice; plus any capital project costs.
Ted Davies spoke about the cost of setting up an in-house operation and what that figure might be.
Don Brown spoke of localization and keeping the profits in Sooke.
Councillor Bev Berger said that her biggest reason for voting against the 21-year agreement was that the district did not entertain any other option than the one put forward.
Bylaw No. 494, Wastewater Franchise Agreement Approval Bylaw, 2011 will allow the district to borrow money from EPCOR for capital projects.
“It gives them a blank cheque for borrowing,” said Milne.
Others spoke of the Alternate Approval Process and the possibility of the issue going to referendum if the AAP gives the nod to backing away from the 21-year deal.
Lorne Christensen said that EPCOR was a well run company which made over $170 million in profit last year.
“They have the best brains to negotiate the very best deal for themselves, who the hell negotiated for us?” he asked.
He and others felt that any profit made by the district, if the operation was localized could be invested for the future of Sooke.
The group has been knocking on doors and getting those who do not agree with the 21-year franchise agreement to sign the AAP forms. They hope to acquire 2,000 signatures.