Public to have say on Epcor taking over drainage

The public will soon have the chance to make their thoughts known on a controversial proposal by Epcor to take over the city’s drainage utility.

Public hearing on issue set for Jan. 24 at City Hall

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

The public will have the chance to be heard on a controversial proposal by Epcor to take over the city's drainage utility.

The company, wholly owned by the City of Edmonton, most recently raised the idea with city council in November.

Council decided at the time it needed more information, and that a public hearing should be held.

Epcor wants to operate the drainage utility, as it now does with water treatment and distribution.

The drainage utility, valued at $2.6 billion, includes everything from pipes that carry sewage to those that carry rainwater.

This isn't the first time Epcor has proposed taking over the city's drainage utility. The company did so in 1997 and again in 2005.

Coun. Mike Nickel said he isn't convinced it's a good idea.

"The transfer of the asset from the City of Edmonton to Epcor benefits Epcor more than it does the City of Edmonton in one regard, in a financial sense," he said.

He said adding another layer of bureaucracy between city council and flood mitigation projects planned by the city doesn't make sense.

"Epcor has to make the business case that it's adding value to the taxpayer," he said. "Part of that value question has to be whether we're going to be getting adequate or sufficient oversight of our drainage asset."

Questions about handing over control

Coun. Dave Loken also has unanswered questions about the deal, and said the city is already doing a good job with its plans for drainage.

"We're well-positioned, going into the future, to deal with our flood mitigation issues," he said. "I don't see the need to transfer this asset."

Loken is also concerned about city council losing control of the drainage utility.

"In terms of access as a city councillor to Epcor, and to Epcor management, and to be able to ask questions and to be able to get answers for citizens, it's not as easy as it is with our own administration," he said. "They really don't have to tell us anything."

Epcor has 'leg up' over city 

Coun. Michael Walters said council would still have the ability to set rates and policy with an Epcor-owned drainage utility, as it does for the water utility owned by Epcor.

"I asked last time if it would be the same for drainage, and the answer was yes," he said.

He said council needs to give the proposal serious consideration because the city will soon need significant upgrades to its aging drainage system.

"One of the lenses I would look through is, who could do capital work quicker?" he said.

"The early indication that we got back from the independent assessment is that Epcor actually has a bit of a leg up."

But Walters said it's not clear whether Epcor would be eligible to apply for provincial and federal funding to help pay for flood mitigation projects.

"If Epcor was to have our drainage system, would that jeopardize our ability to get those grants?" he asked.

The public hearing into the Epcor proposal is scheduled for Jan. 24 at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall. 



Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.