Price leads P3 water concerns

By Rochelle Baker, The Times October 6, 2011 http://www.abbotsfordtimes.com

A recent telephone survey to determine Abbotsford voters’ stance on the city’s proposed P3 water project indicates people are split on whether they will vote for the project.

Abbotsford is planning a $300-million water source and treatment centre at Stave Lake for 2016, and has applied for federal funding from Public Private Partnerships Canada (PPP Canada) for up to 25 per cent of the cost.

The plan would also involve the city entering into a 25-or 30-year contract with a private business to build, partially finance and operate the new water facility.

The city hired Angus Reid to undertake the survey to get a sense of registered voters’ sentiments and thoughts around the water project before a referendum on the issue during the municipal election on Nov. 19.

Opponents of the plan – including the group Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – oppose placing water services into hands of private operators and question the costs associated with the P3 procurement model.

However, most respondents are concerned with how much the project will cost them rather than if it is undertaken by the private sector.

The survey cost $10,000, and is part of a $200,000 education campaign by the city to convince voters to support the P3 water project.

Mario Canseco, Angus Reid vice-president, said the survey indicates respondents’ opposition to the P3 aspect of the plan is less obvious than concerns about budget costs and water rate increases.

“Money is more of an issue than anything and the process around the project,” said Canseco.

A total of 63 per cent of registered voters surveyed in Abbotsford agree with the P3 model, according to the findings. However, when respondents were asked if they would vote for the P3 project during the referendum, 45 per cent were in favour of the plan and 30 per cent said they were against it.

Costs were top of mind with those polled, noted Conseco.

When asked if a water rate increase of 10 per cent, $35 to $45 annually, over the next five years was justified if the water project went ahead respondents were split.

A total of 49 per cent felt it was unjustified, while 45 per cent stated hikes were warranted.

“People think that if you’re going to do something to increase my water bill, you better tell me how it’s going to affect me and how we’re going to pay for it,” said Conseco.

With regards to the Stave Lake project, voters’ top concerns are the project won’t be delivered on budget (75 per cent); the process will be too secretive (62 per cent) and will negatively impact wildlife (60 per cent).

The numbers suggest the city must be as transparent as possible about the project and the costs associated with it, Canseco said.

The survey indicated the city had the confidence of those polled, with 68 per cent saying things in Abbotsford were going in the right direction.

That trust will help councillors convince voters to support the water project during the municipal election campaign, Canseco added.

When surveyed, it appeared the P3 project and water issues weren’t top of mind with respondents with a total of 58 per cent of people not really following the situation.

As part of the Stave Lake project education campaign the city has set up a new website, www.stavelakeproject. ca.

To inform and answer questions from the public the city will host five public meetings and two telephone town hall sessions. Dates will be announced soon.

For more detailed results on the water project survey visit abbotsford.ca/stave_lake_ water/reports/consultant_ reports.htm.

RBaker@abbotsfordtimes.com

© Copyright (c) Abbotsford Times

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