By now, the champagne cork-popping over the recently disclosed water-utility purchase price should have ended at White Rock City Hall.
And any of those people who Mayor Wayne Baldwin was publicly so self-satisfied to think might have “egg on their face” will have wiped any of that yellow matter from their faces.
I would suggest that any who Baldwin gleefully may have thought had “egg on their face” will have used the recently disclosed 2013 water-utility documents that the city so frantically withheld from the public for more than 4½ years to mop up those bits of egg. The true reality of the situation is that given OIPC Order F17-17, even if the city continued to say that it was still in negotiations with Epcor, the city had no option but to disclose to the public the documents well before the Oct. 30, 2018 expiration of the three-year confidentiality provisions agreed to back in 2015.
So what do those now-online documents reveal?
CAO Dan Bottrill’s former secret Feb. 25, 2013 report to council put the value of the water utility at $10 million – 34 per cent less than the $13.4 million that the city has triumphantly said it has now negotiated as a “final purchase price.”
And despite the city’s claims that it pursued the purchase because it was motivated by “public health” and the opportunity to take control of water quality, this report says nothing about water quality and lists the responsibility for operating the water utility – and with that responsibility for water quality – as a “disadvantage.”
Interesting, too, that Bottrill advised council that, as a next step, the city would have to ask Epcor “for the necessary financial information necessary to prepare a business case” to examine the purchase of the water utility. One wonders how the city’s disclosure to the public of its records that contained information supplied by Epcor could possibly compromise negotiations with Epcor, but that is the position the city held for many years.
Bottrill was also one of the authors to the former secret June 10, 2013 report to council which included, as Appendix A, the business case on the acquisition of the water utility. In this report, too, no mention is made about “public health” or the opportunity to manage and control water quality. Here, the only “advantages” identified in purchasing were financial ones for the city, such as being able to determine water rates and apply for grants from senior government.
What is shockingly different in the June 10, 2013 report from the one a mere 3½ months earlier is that the estimated purchase cost exploded by 50 per cent to $15 million.
So what is the real and ultimate cost of the purchase of the water utility to remain with the dubious, metal-laden, well-water supply? To get a more accurate number, how about adding the $13.4 million “final price” to the following: the $6.634M that was added into the budget in 2015 to complete Epcor’s TWQM project; the $1M spent on Well 8; the $1M to hook Well 4 to the Oxford site; the $1M to replace Well 5; conservatively, another $.5M for staff, consultants, plans and studies; and an estimated $14.6M for the as-yet-undefined Arsenic and Manganese Water Treatment Project.
Taking inventory of these numbers, the total known expected cost to date is more than $38 million, and there is still no assurance water quality will match the standards enjoyed by the 2.5 million Lower Mainland residents who currently enjoy the pristine, world-class Metro Vancouver water.
This estimate takes no account of additional operating and maintenance costs. Nor does it take into account the $14.05-million windfall that Epcor realized from the sale of its land at 1454 Oxford St. to Elegant Development Inc.
While city council may have enjoyed cracking some bubbly in council chambers on Oct. 23, I expect that Epcor had already joyously celebrated years ago by breaking out the Dom Perignon.
I do hope that council avoided serving deviled-egg canapés with its bubbly, as I sure would hate for any of them to get any egg on their faces.
Dennis Lypka, Surrey