New Brunswick

Saint John council rejects public-private partnership for water

A proposal to explore a public-private partnership for Saint John's water was put on the backburner at a city council meeting Monday night, the same day the city lifted a boil water order that had been in place for six days.

A proposal to explore a public-private partnership for Saint John's water was put on the backburner at a city council meeting Monday night, the same day the city lifted a boil water order that had been in place for six days.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase unsuccessfully put forward a motion to have an expert come in and deliver a presentation to council about public-private partnership, or P-3, opportunities in the city, including a water treatment facility.

"You're doing what's in the best interest of the public, [which] is fully understanding what opportunities there are to deliver major infrastructure projects," he urged council.

He said if the city pursues a straight public sector route for the new water treatment facilities, the project will take more than two years.

Paul Groody, the city's commissioner of municipal operations, supported Chase's suggestion. He said council should learn what P-3s have to offer.

"Part of it has to be the education of the decision-makers with respect to what those options are. And I couldn't agree more with what Councillor Chase is saying," he said.

Groody said revised estimates on the cost of a water treatment facility are more than $200 million.

Council wants to hear other options

The motion was defeated. Mayor Ivan Court, who campaigned against the idea of privatizing the utility, has been vocal in his opposition to sharing control of the city's water supply.

A company owning the city's water source for the next 40 or 50 years would be a terrible choice, the mayor said.

Court said previously that what is needed to solve the city's water problems is a joint effort between council members to try to fix the system.

Coun. Chris Titus, who opposed the motion, said he wanted to hear more from Saint John Water before he would discuss private-public partnerships.

"I'm not prepared to throw the towel in," he said. "I'm not prepared to say ... [P-3 is] the only option, I don't know what the option is. I know that we haven't given this the good old try yet."

Saint John Water has committed to present a report to the council on water treatment options before the fall.

Chase said he suspects opposition to public-private partnerships from the Canadian Union of Public Employees may have led to the defeat of his motion.

"I can understand why council would be wary of that [opposition]." he said.  

"However, at the end of the day, the public re-elected me to office, and I would suggest that that's a strong endorsement that at least the public is interested in investigating those opportunities."

The latest boil water order, for east Saint John, was lifted earlier Monday after crews worked through the weekend to repair a break in a chlorine injection line. The break was caused by a faulty part, and the manufacturer was expected to cover all repair costs.