EDITORIAL: Will French Creek residents get to buy their water system?

The company that currently owns the system has, to this point, been respectful and open to discussions

This could go one of a few ways, all of which should be interesting and watched closely by those outside this region.

The French Creek Residents Association (FCRA) has made its formal pitch to the Regional District of Nanaimo. The FCRA wants the RDN to buy its water system from a private company. It says residents can handle the purchase price and interest payments without increasing monthly water bills.

The FCRA has done its homework. Thing is, the RDN’s board of directors can’t take that data to the municipal finance authority. It needs its staff, and consultants if required, to provide hard numbers. Those numbers may be close to what the FCRA has come up with, who knows.

The private company that owns the system — Epcor — has not sounded defensive or combative when asked about the prospect of losing its asset. An Epcor spokesperson said the company respects the right of FCRA to pursue this route.

Epcor officials should not be expected to lay down and accept any old offer. Their water system is just that, theirs. The prospect of future profit needs to be factored into the sale price, as it would for any sale of any asset.

As we often express in this space, profit is not a dirty word. Companies large and small are able to invest in their businesses and their employees, ensuring health for the local economy, if there is profit.

That stated, water doesn’t seem to fit that model. And there are laws confirming the notion that governments don’t believe the sale of water should be treated like the sale of widgets or any other product.

So, Epcor knows it is in a tough spot. If things don’t go well during negotiations, governments can pass laws permitting the public takeover of a water system. The City of White Rock went down that road.

If the FCRA’s numbers are close to accurate, it looks from the outside there’s a deal out there that could work for everyone. Perhaps the wild card in all this is the RDN board itself.

Board members from Nanaimo city council and other electoral areas outside the Parksville Qualicum Beach region have used their voting power to supersede the wishes of this region in the past (see ICF). French Creek rep Joe Stanhope’s recommendations on this file, whatever they may be after the facts come in, should be respected.

— Editorial by John Harding

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