Residents’ effort to take over French Creek water system moves forward

Regional District of Nanaimo board directs staff to provide a report on the implications

With a 98 per cent mandate from community members who responded to a survey, the French Creek Residents Association (FCRA) has formally set the gears in motion to buy its water system.

The FCRA’s Rob Williams told the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) board Tuesday night that the association wants the RDN to buy the community’s water system because “it is privately owned, it’s predicated on profit… we’re paying double the cost on capital expenditures for money we could borrow through the municipal finance authority.”

The French Creek water system is owned by Epcor, a private company owned by the City of Edmonton, which Williams said “costs us more, because they get to earn a profit on everything they spend.”

He said Epcor’s projected profit from French Creek in 2016 is $211,707.

“There’s no question that water should not be in the private sector,” agreed Joe Stanhope, RDN director for Area G, which includes French Creek. “I applaud the French Creek Residents Association for carrying out this onerous work. There is a long standing and growing dissatisfaction with the private water purveyor,” Stanhope said.

Williams added that the B.C. Comptroller of Water Rights said “they believe all private utilities will eventually be publicly owned,” and gave a lot of detailed information about the possible purchase, which has been requested by some residents for at least 15 years, including an attempt in 2004 when Epcor ended up buying it.

Extrapolating numbers from the City of White Rock’s purchase of their water service from Epcor last year, the FCRA suggested starting with an offer of $3.5 million.

Williams said even factoring in financial costs, the 2,000 connections (Epcor customers in French Creek) could borrow up to $7 million and still pay the same overall bill for their drinking water.

The FCRA carefully surveyed all of, and only, Epcor customers in French Creek and received what Williams called an impressive 32 per cent response rate, of which almost all — 629 of 640 — supported buying the water service if it didn’t cost them more money.

He said that when an Epcor representative was casually asked if the service was for sale, they were told ‘everything’s for sale for the right price.’ Williams said Epcor didn’t initially seem interested in selling to White Rock, until they brought forward a motion to expropriate the service, “then they were willing to talk.”

“I look forward to this, it’s been a long time coming,” said Teunis Westbroek, mayor of Qualicum Beach, where 140 of the Epcor customers live.

“I fully support this motion,” agreed Marc Lefebvre, mayor of neighbouring Parksville. “It goes to show that privatization of water is not on — we’ve gotta keep water in the public domain.”

“The profit motive always increases the price,” Lefebvre said, “It’s just too expensive, the profit motive.”

The RDN board asked staff for a report on the possibility of buying the service, which will come back to the board at a future meeting.

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