An Epcor engineer flushes out White Rock's water system during the August 2010 boil-water advisory.

Water deal muzzles City of White Rock for three years

Utility purchase – for yet-to-be-decided price – includes confidentiality agreement.

Details of the City of White Rock’s purchase of its water utility, finalized last month, could be kept confidential for three years, according to a purchase agreement obtained last week by a resident.

Confidentiality provisions are laid out in the Aug. 28, 2015 purchase agreement stating that Epcor and White Rock “will continue to abide by the terms of the confidentiality agreement” for three years after the closing date.

The confidentiality agreement states that “any press release, public announcement or other public statement” would require written consent from both parties.

Reached Tuesday morning for comment on the restrictions and time frame, city manager Dan Bottrill said he’d “have to take a look at the agreement and get back to you.”

He did not respond with further explanation by Peace Arch News press deadline.

A copy of the purchase agreement – with portions redacted – was obtained by resident Dorothy Bower, who, after repeated Freedom-of-Information requests to the city, submitted a request with the B.C. Comptroller of Water Rights’ office, which provided the document.

Bower and other residents have expressed frustration at secrecy surrounding the city’s purchase of the water utility, announced in September, asking the city to release details of the agreement, specifically the purchase price.

Last week, Bottrill told PAN that despite the city having taken ownership and operations of the utility Oct. 30, a purchase price had yet to be agreed upon. He described negotiations as “difficult,” noting the matter could be determined by binding arbitration.

Reached for comment Thursday, Epcor’s spokesman Tim LeRiche deferred all inquiries to the city.

“It’s their operation and they should be answering questions about it, as far as Epcor’s concerned,” LeRiche told PAN.

“We’ve co-operated with the city fully and respected the rights of the people of White Rock to make their own decisions regarding their water infrastructure.”

Information released with the purchase agreement also raised questions about the profits Epcor had made from the water utility prior to the transfer taking place – described by Mayor Wayne Baldwin on at least two occasions as “roughly $1 million” each year.

According to unaudited financial statements from Epcor – included in the ‘Application to Dispose Assets’ package submitted to the comptroller’s office, and subsequently released to Bower – Epcor’s net income from White Rock was $140,000 in 2014 and $18,000 in 2013.

Bottrill, however, said the figures in the statement may not accurately represent Epcor’s profit.

“If you’re looking at the difference between revenue and expenditures, that wouldn’t necessarily be their profit,” he said, adding he would “take a look” at the statements for further clarification.

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