White Rock city manager Dan Bottrill addresses a crowd of about 70 who turned out for an update on the city's efforts to acquire its water utility.

White Rock city manager Dan Bottrill addresses a crowd of about 70 who turned out for an update on the city's efforts to acquire its water utility.

White Rock, Epcor water negotiations ‘not going well’

Expropriation cited by White Rock leaders for utility acquisition.

Negotiations between the City of White Rock and water supplier Epcor over control of the utility are “not going well,” and the time has come to explore other options, including expropriation, officials announced Tuesday.

“We have been negotiating now for the better part of two years,” Mayor Wayne Baldwin told a crowd of about 70 people that turned out to the White Rock Community Centre for an update on the effort and an opportunity to provide feedback on next steps.

“Enough is enough. We’ve got to do something now.”

Epcor spokesman Tim LeRiche was not at the meeting but told Peace Arch News Wednesday that he could not speak to how the negotiations are going.

“Basically, it’s business as usual for us. We respect the right of the community to consider options for its future regarding water structures,” LeRiche said.

The city announced its intention to explore acquiring the water utility in March 2013. Three months later, they gave notice to Edmonton-based Epcor of their intention to assume ownership, and directed staff to commence negotiations.

Given the “disappointing” progress of negotiations, expropriation is among three options the city now has, city manager Dan Bottrill told attendees Tuesday. They can also continue to negotiate, or exercise their contractual right to acquire the utility.

With negotiation, there is no guarantee of success, he said; and, both of the latter options would be lengthier endeavours.

Bottrill described expropriation of assets for municipal purposes as one of the city’s statutory rights. And while it could require a finding by the court – only if the parties can’t agree on fair market value – it would be the quickest route to acquiring the utility.

“The big advantage is you acquire it now,” Bottrill said.

The majority of residents who spoke were supportive of the city owning its water system.

Hannah Newmann described expropriation as “really your only answer,” and questioned how much it would cost – an amount Bottrill estimated at $20 million. The money, he said, would be borrowed through the Municipal Finance Authority – which would mean a lower interest rate fixed over a longer term – and likely paid off over 30 years.

Ken Jones, a former city councillor and MLA, also agreed with expropriation, but said land on Oxford Street owned by Epcor and currently being eyed for a two-tower residential development should also be claimed in the move and used to bolster White Rock’s parkland.

“The value of that land is only in its rezoning and that’s totally in the hands of the city. We should seriously look at that,” Jones said, to applause.

Bottrill, however, said that parcel would not likely be part of an expropriation and “should be treated like anybody else who owns property and wishes to develop it.”

Another resident questioned the condition of the water system, and the risks of taking that on.

Epcor is in the midst of $11-$12 million of upgrades to the system, prompted by contamination in 2010 that led Fraser Health to order the system be chlorinated by June 2016. Chlorination is estimated at 30 per cent of the cost. The rest of the work is to include a reservoir on Oxford Street and a new reservoir on Merklin Street. Should arsenic and manganese levels rise, treatment for those issues would add an estimated $10 million to the cost, Bottrill said.

He said the upgrades are inevitable, regardless of who owns the system. The benefit of ownership, he noted, is control.

Bottrill said another advantage of owning the utility is that the city cannot legally profit from it. With no change in ownership, however, Epcor is projecting a profit of $428,000 in 2015 and $878,000 in 2017, the final year of its Total Water Quality Management Project – and all of those funds will go straight to Edmonton.

Resident Andrew Schulz said he also supported acquiring the utility but only if White Rock hooks up to Metro Vancouver’s system. Schulz cited the potential for liability should a substantial issue with arsenic or manganese develop, but Bottrill said liability is “a non-issue for a municipality.” As well, once the utility is acquired, the option to tie in to the Metro system will be available for “forever and a day.”

One resident expressed concern that the city would contract out the utility’s operation, as they have with “everything else.”

Another, Sharleen Hamm, encouraged the city to try mediation.

Only one resident spoke in favour of maintaining the status quo.

Gordon Hammond – noting he is a “friend of Epcor” – said he has never had a problem with Epcor’s service or the cost of it.

“I’m quite happy to keep Epcor,” Hammond said.

Bottrill told PAN Wednesday there is no firm timeline for a decision on next steps, however, “what I heard was, get it done and the sooner, the better.”

He expects to have a report and recommendation ready for council’s next regular meeting, which takes place Monday (June 22).

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce to host virtual COVID-19 town hall

Online event to include local politicians and representatives from Fraser Health, WorkSafe BC

At least one person received life-threatening injuries when a car collided with a semi truck in South Surrey on Friday morning. (Brenda Anderson photo)
VIDEO: South Surrey crash sends one to hospital in critical condition

Road closures in effect after collison between car and semi-truck

Ben “Santa” Cohen visits Ecole Martha Currie in Cloverdale Dec. 4. Santa wished everyone a socially-distanced Merry Christmas out in front of the school. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Santa visits Ecole Martha Currie in Cloverdale

First gig of the season for Ben ‘Santa’ Cohen; COVID driving most gigs online

Shawn Canil, a Cloverdale-area resident, turns heads with the truck he’s decorated for Christmas. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Truck’s Christmas decorations lift spirits on Cloverdale man’s commute

‘When I see them smiling, I know it’s worth it,’ pickup driver Shawn Canil says

Gurbaz Singh, deli manager at the Cloverdale Country Market, arranges some gifts in the back of a vintage car. The car is part of the Cloverdale Country Market’s “December to Remember” picture taking area. The market is encouraging people to come down, snap some Christmas pics and share them on social media. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
PHOTOS: Cloverdale Country Market creates Christmas picture space

Market cancels annual Christmas Craft Fair, replaces it with Christmas picture zone

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Chilliwack General Hospital. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress file)
Chilliwack mother upset about son’s alleged suicide attempt after hospital discharge

Rhonda Clough said 34-year-old son suffering with bipolar disorder should have been kept in hospital

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

Most Read