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Whistler, B.C. stands to lose its ranking as one of Canada's best wastewater treatment providers, if it proceeds with council's plans to privatize the operation, said Canadian Union of Public Employees BC President Barry O'Neill.
The union leader is responding to Regional Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) plans, announced last Monday, to pursue a design-build-operate (DBO) public-private partnership (P3) for the planned $22.31 million upgrade of the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
RMOW council claims a private corporation can do a better job at upgrading and operating the facility. O'Neill says, "there is nothing efficient or sustainable about inviting multinational corporations to turn a profit from your high quality, award-winning, public wastewater treatment operation."
In September 2004, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund ranked Whistler second in its National Sewage Report Card, which evaluated 22 cities and assigned them a letter grade based on the quality of their sewage treatment. Whistler scored a solid 'A'.
O'Neill points to evidence from private sewage treatment schemes that have been tried across the country. He argues that such P3 experiments, such as the infamous 10-year water and wastewater privatization disaster in Hamilton, Ontario, have been "fraught with corporate instability, raw sewage spills, rate hikes and the loss of public control."
Besides the bankruptcies, broken contracts and private operator demands for rate hikes, Hamilton taxpayers had to foot the bill for the cleanup of a massive sewage spill from the P3 facility into the basements of Hamilton residents and into the Harbour. Late last year, Hamilton council finally made the decision to take over ownership and operation of the facility once again.
The 1990s saw three public upgrades of the Whistler's wastewater treatment plant to improve quality and expand capacity for the growing population. This P3 upgrade is scheduled for completion in 2007 and will expand the capacity of the plant to enable it to handle the explosion of visitors, athletes, spectators and tourists expected for the 2010 Olympics.
CUPE BC and the local union, CUPE 2010 are demanding public consultation on the privatization scheme and the publication of details of the DBO P3 offer, including the amount of risk transferred to the private sector, concrete evidence of cost savings, and the impact it will have on municipal workers. But most of all the impact on future generations such a scheme will have. CUPE BC has vowed to work with the local union to make the public aware of the pitfalls of such a dramatic switch in public policy.