Mission P3 position firm: Atebe

Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford spokesperson Janet Chalmers was one of several residents who protested outside Abbotsford city hall Monday evening.

Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford spokesperson Janet Chalmers was one of several residents who protested outside Abbotsford city hall Monday evening.

Abbotsford council’s decision Monday night to proceed with an application to PPP Canada to fund a proposed public private partnership (P3) for a new water supply and treatment plant at Stave Lake will not change Mission council’s position.

It’s their own prerogative to make the decision on behalf of their community, but it will not change Mission’s April 4 vote, said Mayor James Atebe.

“We did hear clearly from our community that they don’t trust the private sector operating it.”

Atebe says it’s too soon to tell how Abbotsford’s decision will affect this community, but he notes Mission will continue to explore other options to address the district’s water needs, including other senior government grants which don’t involve private partnerships.

He will also be requesting a special Water and Sewer Commission meeting as soon as possible to examine and assess Abbotsford’s decision and determine its affect on Mission residents.

Mission and Abbotsford co-own the current water system, and the two communities have had a partnership for many decades, said Atebe, noting the relationship has to be maintained.

Abbotsford council voted 7-2 in favour of moving the revised application forward with Couns. Patricia Ross and Lynne Harris voting against.

The decision does not mean the city will enter into a P3 agreement, but it allows it to fully explore the option, find out if the plan will be accepted by PPP Canada and how much funding (up to $66.5 million) could be provided.

Abbotsford staff had to revise the original proposal after Mission voted against the P3 option.

Instead of a joint, $300-million project, Abbotsford has decided to act on its own on a smaller, approximately $284 million), proposal. The new plan still includes a pump station and treatment plant at Stave Lake, but no longer includes an expansion to the MacLure reservoir or treatment of water from Cannel Lake.

While most councillors admitted they still needed more information, and had reservations regarding P3s, they saw no reason to delay applying for funding.

Coun. John Smith said he “takes comfort in the fact” that this is not the final say and the city could easily decide to change its mind, or have it changed for them.

“In the final analysis, the people will have the final say,” said Smith, referring to the November referendum which would be needed for a P3 to be approved.

The most outspoken critic of the plan was Ross, who said she felt the city had a “gentleman’s agreement” with Mission.

“In order for us to move forward, we both had to agree,” said Ross, adding that Mission’s decision to abandon the P3 idea should have killed Abbotsford’s plan.

She said she was uncomfortable moving forward, considering Stave Lake is located in Mission.

Ross called Mission neighbours and friends and said the move to go it alone felt “like a hostile take over.”

The large crowd of anti-P3 supporters gave her a standing ovation and one person shouted out “Ross for mayor.”

Despite her objections, the motion passed.

After the meeting Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said he didn’t agree with Ross.

“I don’t think Mission will be offended by what has been done,” said Peary.

He said he has approached James Atebe, but the Mission mayor wanted to wait until Abbotsford voted before discussing the next step for the two cities.

“Now we can have a dialogue,” said Peary who added if Abbotsford continues on the P3 path alone, Mission would be able to acquire water, without putting up any capital.

But Peary also stressed the final decision lies with the voters.

“I expect this will be a major election issue,” he said.

– with files from Kevin Mills