White Rock water takeover in three months

White Rock council voted unanimously to expropriate its water utililty.

The City of White Rock will own its water utility by the end of September, following a vote Monday to expropriate the system from Edmonton-based Epcor.

Council voted unanimously to direct the chief administrative officer to work with the city’s lawyer with a view to acquire title to the water utility by Sept. 30.

The vote marks the end of two years of negotiations with Epcor to buy the utility – talks that Mayor Wayne Baldwin said last month were “not going well.”

In a report on proposed amendments to the city’s financial plan that factored in the need for long-term borrowing to acquire the utility, director of financial services Sandra Kurylo estimated the cost at $23 million. The sum, she explained, includes the cost of completing Epcor’s total water quality management project, which includes chlorination of the system by June 2016.

Other amendments were recommended to enable replacement of the Marine Drive hump retaining wall in 2015 (instead of over 2016-2017); and, to resurrect plans for a million-dollar upgrade to Memorial Park on the waterfront.

All were ultimately carried on a 5-2 vote by council, with Couns. Helen Fathers and David Chesney opposed.

A number of residents who spoke to the water-utility issue encouraged the city to also pursue acquisition of a parcel of land at 1454 Oxford St. that is also owned by Epcor – and being eyed for a two-tower residential development – but not part of the water system.

The land, said Andrew Schulz, has been used as an unofficial park for years, and would go a long way to increase much-needed green space in the city.

Schulz cited reports from as far back as 1958 that indicated White Rock should have more parkland than it does. Currently, the city has four acres per 1,000 citizens, “and we are decreasing this with every development,” he said.

The current assessed value of the site, he added – approximately $13 million – only applies if the city allows its zoning to change.

As is, it’s worth one-tenth that amount, he said.

Susan Watkins asked council to consider the potential detriment of not having the adjacent land available for expansion of the water utility.

The arguments, however, did not sway the majority of council. A motion by Fathers to have staff move forward on the additional site’s acquisition was defeated on a 5-2 vote, with Baldwin and Couns. Bill Lawrence, Megan Knight, Lynne Sinclair and Grant Meyer opposed.

In discussing the motion, Sinclair questioned the timing of Fathers’ suggestion.

“Why this motion now, at this late date?” she said. “You’ve had ample opportunity in closed meetings to bring it up and move a motion. It seems to me kind of late in the day. Perhaps two years ago, something else could’ve happened.”

Describing Monday’s meeting as the first public opportunity to vote on the issue, Fathers said “hindsight is 20/20.”

“I’ve heard from the residents that it’s important to acquire it.”

Chesney supported Fathers’ call, suggesting council “leave it as undeveloped and offer (Epcor) $2 million.”

The decision against prompted derisive scoffs from some council attendees, who suggested council were influenced by developer contributions.

“You got the money from the developers – congratulations,” Schulz said.

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