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Saint John opts for Spanish company for its P3 drinking water system

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Saint John city council is moving ahead with a public-private partnership (P3) for a new 100 million litre per day drinking water treatment plant, three 11 million litre storage reservoirs and 15 other water transmission system improvements.

CBC reports,

"After years of discussion and waiting, Saint John has finally given the green light to a new drinking water treatment system. Councillors voted to accept the public-private partnership Friday [Nov. 6] evening....The federal government and the province will each pay one quarter of the $229.2 million budget. The other half will be paid off by city residents over the first 30 years of the project. That money will be paid to the winning construction consortium, Port City Water Partners. It is made up of nine private partners, including two Irving construction companies, FCC Construction and Gulf Operators."

The consortium that won the bid involves:

  • New York-based Brookfield Financial Corp., a global investment bank, leads this consortium
  • Spain's Acciona Agua, which focuses on water treatment facilities
  • North America Construction Ltd.
  • AMEC Environment and Infrastructure
  • engineering company Dessau Inc.
  • Quebec's Simo Management Inc.
  • FCC Construction and Gulf Operators, as noted above both Irving owned companies

Acciona Agua describes itself as, "a leader in the water treatment sector with the ability to design, construct and operate drinking water treatment plants, residual purification plants, tertiary treatment plants for re-use and reverse-osmosis desalination plants."

It is possible that the Madrid-based company could invoke the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), should it be ratified, if Saint John were to decide in the future to make their drinking water utility fully public. Just last month, the European Water Movement outlined their concerns about CETA in relation to water.

They concluded,

"Canadian and European companies in the water sector are subsidiaries of the same multinational companies (such as Veolia, Nestlé, Suez or Coca-Cola). CETA and TTIP offer these multinationals a great opportunity to get their hands on water and water-related services, to the detriment of people living on both sides of the Atlantic."

On March 25, 2013, Saint John city council voted 7-1 to proceed with the P3 route.

In February 2013, the Council of Canadians Saint John chapter had organized a teach-in opposed to the proposed P3 for their water system. In March 2013, the chapter called on city council to seek an independent study on P3s and to delay its plans to apply to a federal P3 fund. In May 2013, the chapter organized a public meeting featuring the retired commissioner for Saint John Water who said the P3 would cost the city more in the long term and would lead to a lack of accountability and transparency in decision-making. The retired commissioner estimated the city would pay $35 million more for the project than it would under a traditional tender.

Our opposition to a P3 in Saint John goes even farther back. In October 2009, the Telegraph Journal reported, "[Council of Canadians] water campaigner Meera Karunananthan said P3s are simply forms of privatization, arguing Saint John should not allow private companies to finance, own or operate water or wastewater services."

The P3 water utility is scheduled to be in operation by the end of 2018.

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