Edmonton city council votes to transfer drainage to EPCOR

Edmonton's drainage assets, estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, will be transferred to city-owned EPCOR within six months after a close vote at council on Wednesday.

City council voted 7-6 Wednesday on a decision worth more than $1B

A car is stranded in a flooded part of the Whitemud in June 2016. ( Nicole Teeuwsen)

Edmonton's drainage assets, estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, will be transferred to city-owned EPCOR within six months after a close vote at council on Wednesday.

Council voted 7-6 in favour of the move that will allow EPCOR to control Edmonton's drainage services, responsible for everything from pipes that move stinky sewage away from homes to those that carry rainwater away from city gutters.

The deal has been years in the making, as EPCOR has pitched the asset transfer twice before, arguing it will ultimately save residents money.

But resistance from those who think drainage pipes should stay strictly under city control almost scuttled Wednesday's vote. Coun. Dave Loken proposed a postponement for more public consultation.

There has been one public meeting that attracted just a handful of residents since EPCOR approached the City of Edmonton again last year with a proposal to take over the drainage assets.

Some councillors said they've had frequent discussions with constituents through their offices.

"I didn't see any reason to make a change," Loken said after the vote. "The hard part was my frustration with what I thought was a real lack of public process here.
Coun. Dave Loken felt the public should have been consulted more. (CBC)

"At the end of the day, it's a different relationship. We're still dealing with an arm's-length entity and we just don't have the same control over an arm's-length board ... that we do with our current drainage department.

"It's a totally different relationship."

EPCOR has said the transfer will not result in layoffs of those currently working for the city's drainage department. Part of the deal also includes an agreement that user rates will rise by three per cent per year for at least five years.

A clause was also added to Wednesday's motion to ensure the public can go through FOIP or a FOIP-type process to acquire information from EPCOR.

Bigger business deals

EPCOR has long-argued that it could save money by consolidating the city's water systems under its control (it already manages Edmonton's water and wastewater services).

But it has also argued that by acquiring the city's drainage assets, it will gain the expertise necessary to garner more out-of-city business. 

About 90 per cent of EPCOR dividends — which go back to the City of Edmonton — are generated in the city itself. About 10 per cent of its profits come from out-of-city operations.

EPCOR suggested that number could grow by another 10 per cent in the next decade, which would add significantly to city coffers.

EPCOR's dividend to the city is expected to be $146 million this year and the agreement stipulates a $20-million increase next year as part of the deal.

'No change' for Edmontonians

Mayor Don Iveson, who voted in favour of the motion, felt he had enough information to make the decision Wednesday. He said he has no major concerns about the future of drainage services under EPCOR control.

"I think this will work out well for citizens," Iveson said. "In terms of services, they should notice no change.

"I think this will potentially help it grow faster over time, which is good for the city's bottom line."
Don Iveson said he expects the growth of EPCOR to benefit Edmonton in the long run. (CBC)

Iveson was supported in voting for the transfer by councillors Michael Oshry, Andrew Knack, Scott McKeen, Michael Walters, Bryan Anderson and Ed Gibbons.

Those who voted against were Loken, Moe Banga, Ben Henderson, Tony Caterina, Mike Nickel and Bev Esslinger.