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10th April 2019
Residents express frustrations on lack of information regarding water utility purchase

Michael Briones

The French Creek Residents Association remains frustrated.

They group says it is experiencing great difficulty getting information on the Regional District of Nanaimo plans to purchase EPCOR Water West Utility.

FCRA president Rob Williams said they’ve been waiting for developments since the residents voted in favour of the RDN’s plan almost three years ago to purchase the water utility.

The last piece of news the residents received was last year in September when the RDN presented EPCOR with a non-binding letter of intent to purchase.

A new set of RDN directors have come in and Williams said nothing has changed as they’ve been told that “details are kept confidential.”

“What irks us is that they won’t even supply any general info such as if meetings have occurred or what their consultants have determined for value of the utility which has nothing to do with EPCOR discussions,” said Williams. “The directors point us back to staff for any communication and RDN staff keep reminding everyone that the RDN has signed a confidentiality agreement, but we feel they take this too literally.”

The FCRA has requested the RDN for the Epcor Evaluation Report that was commissioned by the regional districts in 2017 but were denied access. The group made the request under the Freedom of Information Act and were also turned down.

“They said ‘no’ based on nebulous reasons of confidentiality etcetera,” said Williams. “Now we’re going to appeal that because it’s not a confidential matter.”

Williams said the board discusses the issue behind closed doors but nothing is disseminated or revealed to the public. He feels the regional district is abusing the use of in-camera sessions.

“We understand that meeting content cannot be discussed but to prohibit a statement being made that a report is being referred to a closed meeting is ludicrous and a misplaced interpretation of closed meeting confidentiality,” said Williams. “We absolutely know nothing. We don’t know the content of the report if there’s any progression if there is any on discussions with EPCOR. Absolutely zero. And there’s something wrong with that.”

Williams also pointed out the controversy over District 69 matters being referred to in-camera meetings when the discussion should be at public meetings.

“Another example of the misinterpretation of closed meeting usage,” said Williams.

RDN staff has indicated they have no updates to release and will inform the public when more information becomes available.

In a survey conducted in 2016, French Creek residents favoured the RDN buying EPCOR mainly due to rate increases the utility company can easily imposed on residents. They feel the water utility should be a public domain.

“EPCOR is privately owned by the City of Edmonton,” Williams explained. “Right now there’s a profit margin in the water rates and we also pay for debt, which is two times more than we would pay if the RDN borrowed money. If you take both away, we could save money.”

Williams said on an average, French Creek residents pay more, compared to others in the RDN’s water services area.

“If we were paying the same with EPCOR, the thing is we don’t own it,” said Williams. “Where does it go in the future. All water rates are vetted and improved by the comptroller water rates in Victoria. These guys like EPCOR are experts in this. They usually get their way. We don’t want to continue paying their profit and their excess cost of debt.”