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Epcor seeks to buy Edmonton’s wastewater and stormwater collection services

The Epcor “leadership team” wants to run the City of Edmonton’s drainage services as a business.

Epcor is seeking to take over the drainage services currently publicly-owned and operated by the City of Edmonton.

Epcor is a for-profit municipal corporate utility (MCU), a city-owned business that operates as a private corporate entity without public reporting requirements.

Among other assets, the proposed purchase would give the company 6,000 kilometres of storm, sanitary and combined drainage pipes and 240 stormwater ponds and management facilities.

The Edmonton Journal highlights, “[City] council has previously rejected [previous] requests [in 1997, 2005 and 2009 for Epcor to own the drainage services]. This new attempt was a surprise addition to a public council agenda released Thursday. …[The Epcor take over of the Gold Bar wastewater treatment plant in 2009] prompted a public protest by five civic unions, the Council of Canadians, the Parkland Institute and Sierra Club of Canada. That campaign, Keep Drainage Edmonton, argued giving drainage assets to Epcor makes the system less transparent.”

In 2009, City Council voted 7-6 to approve the Epcor purchase of the wastewater treatment plant.

In terms of that transparency, the Edmonton Journal adds, “Drainage officials currently report publicly about once a month in front of a drainage committee. They’re subject to freedom of information legislation and the city auditor’s office. None of that applies to Epcor. Instead, it files an annual report in its water services to council. The meetings of its 10-member city-appointed board are private, as are its quarterly meetings with city councillors.”

In May 2014, Epcor and four partners were chosen to design, build and operate a sewage treatment plant in Regina under a public-private partnership. In opposition to that decision, Council of Canadian chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “When it’s a private company, they have to make a profit and there are only so many ways you can do this. You have to raise water rates higher than the public rates or you have to cut corners somewhere and you have to lay off the work force. I’ve heard horror stories from around the world where private companies have been able to cut corners.”

Epcor has the City of Edmonton as its sole shareholder. It provides water, wastewater and distribution services to more than 1 million people in 75 Canadian communities. It also operates in the United States (as the largest private water utility in Arizona and New Mexico). Epcor is an example of a municipal corporate utility. Under that model, public transparency is severely curtailed in that, for example, Epcor is not subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. A Canadian Union of Public Employees-British Columbia fact sheet notes that, “Epcor Water Services continues to promote privatized water and wastewater systems in Alberta and British Columbia.”

Mayor Don Iveson is reserving his judgment on Epcor’s proposal.

CBC adds, “If council decides to look into the idea, the city will hire an independent consultant for $200,000 to investigate the potential benefits to taxpayers and ratepayers. …Epcor has pledged to offer new jobs to all drainage employees with comparable salaries and benefits if city council decides to move ahead with the idea.”

City Council will decide whether to hire an independent consultant as a first step in this process on June 14.