January 31, 2005

Privatization will cost Whistler its "A" grade for wastewater treatment, says municipal union

WHISTLER, BC-Whistler stands to lose its ranking as one of Canada's best wastewater treatment providers if it goes ahead with a plan to privatize the operation, Barry O'Neill, BC president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said earlier this month. The Regional Municipality of Whistler is reported to be considering to a design-build-operate, public-private partnership (P3) for a planned $22.3-million upgrade of its wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). The facility has already undergone three upgrades during the 1990s to improve quality and expand capacity for the growing population. The P3 upgrade, scheduled for completion in 2007, will expand the capacity of the plant to enable it to handle the huge number of visitors, athletes, spectators and tourists expected for the 2010 Olympics. Arguing against the P3 option, O'Neill cited Hamilton, Ontario's decade of experience with water and wastewater privatization, which he described as "fraught with corporate instability, raw sewage spills, rate hikes and the loss of public control." Last September, Hamilton council finally made the decision to take back ownership and operation of the facility. Also in September, Whistler was ranked second in Canada for the quality of its sewage treatment, scoring a solid 'A' on the Sierra Legal Defence Fund's National Sewage Report Card, which evaluated 22 cities. CUPE BC and the local union, CUPE 2010 want Whistler council to conduct public consultation on the privatization scheme and to make details of the plan public, including the amount of risk transferred to the private sector, concrete evidence of cost savings, and the impact it will have both on municipal workers and on residents of the municipality.

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