NDP warns against P3 sewage treatment plants

Jeffrey Simpson
Halifax Chronicle-Herald
March 4, 2000

The New Democrats are cautioning Halifax regional council about pitfalls private ownership could pose for the city’s planned sewage-treatment plants.

“Private ownership of public facilities has a checkered history here in Nova Scotia – that is well documented,” Maureen MacDonald, NDP caucus chairwoman, said Friday.

“Taxpayers bear all of the costs and the risks while the private companies skim off the profit.”

The nine NDP MLAs who represent provincial ridings in the municipality have written council asking it to rethink plans to have a private consortium operate the $315-million Harbour Solutions project.

Ms. MacDonald held out the public-private partnership process used to build several schools in the province to back up her claim.

Problems experienced there include lower construction standards, public access to school buildings and conflicts of interest, she said.

“It’s a sweetheart deal for the P3 developers, not the taxpayers,” she said.

She said Hamilton, Ont., is paying dearly because of problems with its private sewage plant, which stuck ratepayers with higher water bills.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees is also lobbying against a public-private partnership and has cited Hamilton as an example of such an arrangement gone wrong.

But Hamilton’s city manager, D.A. Lychak, defends the project in a letter to Halifax’s chief administrative officer, Ken Meech.

“Who do you believe? The NDP or the city manager running the project?” Halifax city spokesman John O’Brien said.

“Obviously they choose to disagree – that’s their business.”

Halifax councillors have spent the last month poring over documents to decide what specifications to include in a request for proposals the city is sending to three consortiums already shortlisted.

Council has been divided on the issue and is scheduled to make a decision on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a group called Environment Probe has released a study indicating that sewage privatization in Indianapolis has been successful.

Indianapolis privatized the operations and maintenance of its two sewage treatment plants in 1994.

Over the first five years of the contract, the city claims to have saved $72.8 million US.

It also claims that privatization has enhanced environmental performance and improved relations with the plants’ staff – despite staff cuts.

“As Halifax considers bringing in a private contractor to operate its four proposed sewage treatment plants, it should look to other jurisdictions for guidance on what works and what doesn’t work,” said Elizabeth Brubaker, Environment Probe’s executive director.

“Clearly, Indianapolis’s approach has worked.”

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