October 17, 2012



THE HIDDEN PRICE OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS (no mention of CRD's P3 sludge energy centre - but could be!)



Stop A Bad Plan!

ARESST Volunteer Event
When: Oct 18th at 7:15pm
Where: Fairfield Community Centre (Garry Oaks Room)

Thank you for generously volunteering for this campaign on this very important issue. Your help in bringing a real understanding of the wastewater issue to all residents of the seven municipalities involved in the Core Area Liquid waste management is most appreciated.
ARESST is holding a volunteer orientation event on Thursday, October 18 at 7:15 pm at the Fairfield Community Centre in the Garry Oaks Room:
The Gary Oaks Room is accessible from Thurlow St at the back of Sir James Douglas School and there is plenty of parking in the school lot and on the street.
There will be a short presentation on the campaign, and sign up for the various activities that will be taking place until the Christmas break. We hope you can attend so that we can get to know you, better understand your skills, develop neighbourhood based teams. Light refreshments will be served.


ARESST: The $783 million capital nor $15 million operating ESTIMATE does NOT include taxes! Including all taxes, the currently-estimated capital and operating costs of the unnecessary sewage treatment plant will exceed ONE BILLION DOLLARS within 12 years! 


Stuck on $783-million sticker price
Rob Shaw
Times Colonist
October 17, 2012

Greater Victoria municipalities are looking at whether a last-ditch attempt to fix underground pipes could cut the bill for sewage treatment, but it's too late to affect the project's $783-million sticker price, they have been told.

Politicians on the Capital Regional District's sewage committee mused last week about whether a quick blitz of repairs to leaky pipes, which let rainwater into the system, could cut flow - and costs - to the planned sewage treatment system.

New estimates show households could pay between $232 and $391 a year for sewage treatment, depending on the municipality. The treatment system is set to go online in 2018.

The figures prompted some politicians, such as Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, to question whether a rush on repairs to hundreds of kilometres of leaky old pipes might translate into savings on sewage treatment.

Water that leaks into the system - which engineers call inflow and infiltration - increases the volume that needs to be treated at the plant.

It's an enormous problem in Greater Victoria, where stormwater can balloon sewage flow by 200 to 400 per cent of the normal rate, according to CRD figures.

Victoria and Oak Bay, where the problem is worst, will essentially be paying millions to unnecessarily treat their rainwater.

Victoria has estimated it needs to spend $30 million over the next 15 years to repair or replace aging sanitary sewer pipes.

Fortin asked the CRD sewage committee whether quadrupling Victoria's $900,000 annual budget for inflow and infiltration and spending it in a single year to "whack down our flow rate" would lower the city's share of the bill.

Not really, according to CRD staff.

The size and capacity of the treatment plant are already set, based upon flow estimates and growth projections from the seven municipalities, said CRD chief administrative officer Kelly Daniels.

Even if a municipality fixed its pipes to lower its flow, it wouldn't change the overall $783-million capital cost, Daniels said. The only savings would be in the share of the annual operating costs, which are currently estimated at $15 million a year.

But there, too, things get complicated.

Because the system has fixed capacity and costs, cutbacks in one community mean prices rise in another, Daniels said. There's also a complicated cap-and-trade system to swap and buy unused sewage capacity.

Politicians on the sewage committee have wrestled with the impact of leaky pipes since 2009, when some called for a regional study of broken-pipe costs before designing the treatment system. It didn't happen.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she was disappointed more repairs weren't done back when it could have made a difference to the size of treatment plant.

"I'm frustrated by that, because here we are now saying we can deal with [inflow and infiltration] and it will reduce our operating costs, but we could have done so much more than that," she said.

Some communities, such as Saanich, will try to reduce sewage costs by encouraging water conservation and things like low-flow toilets, said Saanich Coun. Judy Brownoff.

Oak Bay, where households are set to pay the most for sewage treatment, has a different problem. Its high costs reflect an ancient pipe system that mixes stormwater and sewage in the Uplands area, inflating the flow for treatment.

Separating the Uplands system would cost $14 million, said Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen.

"We have a plan in place that we're going to be taking forward," Jensen said. "But it could take five, 10 or 20 years before we see a significant reduction in terms of the rainwater we have to treat."


Times Colonist 
OCTOBER 15, 2012 5:01pm
After  having been ordered by the federal and provincial governments to build a sewage-treatment system, Greater Victoria politicians want to have their say in how the project develops.      And so they should — they are ultimately accountable to regional taxpayers for the success and failures of the system.

The provincial and federal governments are funding two-thirds of the cost of the $783-million project, with the stipulation that municipal politicians step out of the way and let the construction and financing of the system be handled by a seven-person panel of experts.

The majority of members of the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee balked at a bylaw that would create the commission, and are demanding more oversight over the project.

Having an expert panel oversee the project is an excellent idea and would help avoid the nightmare of elected officials interfering and micro-managing. Being elected does not automatically give a person deep insights into the complexities of sewage treatment and the intricacies of finance. 

But council members were elected to safeguard the local public good. They cannot abdicate that responsibility, edicts from higher levels of government notwithstanding. The local officials are correct in seeking to retain some control over the project. 

If the project goes over budget — and that happens all too often — local taxpayers will have to pick up the extra costs. 

If something goes wrong, builders and designers could ultimately be held responsible, but it’s local government that will bear the brunt of the first assault.

Those seeking more say in the sewage project are not asking for anything new. 

While municipal governments cannot function without the aid of experts in various fields — finance, law, urban planning, land development, municipal administration — those experts work with, and are answerable to, elected officials.

The panel of experts will undoubtedly know sewage-treatment systems, but municipal council members know their communities. They are sensitive to local needs and issues. While technical expertise might dictate that a pipeline should go one way, local knowledge might dictate otherwise. Local involvement is needed to reconcile such issues. We can’t assume the panel of experts would have all the answers.

It’s condescending on the part of the provincial government to say, as Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin phrases it: “Don’t worry your little pretty head, we’ll take care of this.” That goes against principles of democracy, not to mention common sense. Government bears constant watching, even if it’s one level of government watching another.

The involvement of local government in this project needs to be at arm’s length, and those elected officials involved should tread lightly and carefully — political interference can create a toxic brew — but placing complete blind faith in an unelected panel, no matter how distinguished and knowledgeable, is not right.

This is a project affecting almost everyone in the region — it needs the input and reasonable oversight of local government.


Roszan Holmen 
Victoria News
October 15, 2012

New to political campaigning, Murray Rankin said he's been drinking too much coffee and losing weight cycling around Victoria's neighbourhoods.

While he wasn't running for office as such, Rankin took the race for the NDP's nomination in the Victoria federal byelection seriously.

"I took nothing for granted – I was running scared the whole election," he said Monday, a day after winning a first-ballot vote amongst NDP members.

All that "good old-fashioned" door knocking paid off, helping Rankin earn 352 votes at the nomination meeting at the University of Victoria. His total was well ahead of runner-up Elizabeth Cull (96 votes), Charley Beresford (51) and Ben Isitt (36).

The new candidate said Stephen Harper's leadership will be the main issue in the upcoming campaign.

"People feel the increasing income inequality in our society," Rankin said.

Also last weekend, the Liberal Party named lone nominee Paul Summerville its candidate by acclamation.

Speaking to supporters at St. Matthias Anglican Church Hall on Saturday, Summerville targeted a secondary sewage treatment facility as a plant "we don't need and don't want."

Only the Liberal Party is against the project, he said. In his acceptance speech, he said the project will "vacuum up all the federal and provincial infrastructure dollars that could be used for public investment like storm sewers and 21st century public transit."

Summerville fingered the Harper Government for imposing sewage treatment.

But Rankin, an environmental lawyer who has done work with the provincial NDP, pointed to the B.C. Liberal Party's role in mandating the project.

"Do people forget that?" he asked.

While the NDP do not oppose sewage treatment, Rankin said there are many pertinent issues facing Victoria voters, such as the recently approved luxury yacht marina in the Songhees, and homelessness.

"Those who would try to turn this into a single-issue byelection, I think, really underestimate the sophistication of our electorate."

The date for the byelection has not been set. It was triggered by the resignation of MP Denise Savoie due to health reasons.

Two weeks ago, the Green Party nominated Donald Galloway as its candidate in the race.

Late to the game is the Conservative party. The Victoria Conservative Association is gathering tonight (Oct. 15) to confirm potential candidates and set a date for its nomination meeting.

Former Victoria candidate Patrick Hunt was rumoured to be running, but has since confirmed he will not seek the nomination.


OCTOBER 15, 2012
Two of Canada’s major environmental groups are asking the federal government to review the use of 30 pesticide chemicals already banned by other countries that they say pose risks to the environment and to people’s health.

Ecojustice, acting on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation and Equiterre, revealed Monday that they have filed a request for a special review by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on the chemicals, which they say are found in more than 700 registered domestic and agricultural pesticide products.

“There’s some very strong evidence to suggest that these substances used in pest control substances are harming humans and wildlife and the environment,” said Mara Kerry, director, science and policy at the David Suzuki Foundation.

“I think it’s important that Canadians are aware of what is being used out there in the forests and the agricultural lands in this country, and the potential risks.”

One of the chemicals in question, Atrazine, is approved in Canada for use on corn but was banned by the European Union in 2004 due to groundwater contamination concerns, according to the group’s request submission. Another, Carbaryl, was banned in Europe five years ago because it’s a potential carcinogen for animals, but is still approved by Health Canada for use in 44 pesticide products used on a range of crops, the groups said.

The request for a review was filed under section 17 the Pest Control Products Act, which allows any person to request a special review “of the registration of a pest control product by making a request to the minister” if that product has been banned for health or environmental reasons by an OECD member country.

There’s always new science and evidence to demonstrate how these products are affecting the environment and human health, and it’s important that they’re reviewed regularly, Kerry said.

“It’s time to review them again here in Canada, and bring to light the best evidence,” Kerry said.

It’s “concerning” that these chemicals have been banned elsewhere but not in Canada, Kerry said.

“The worst are those chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic. It can affect human users – even bystanders, in certain case, with some of the herbicides.”

Linuron, another chemical the groups have requested a review on, has been found to induce “malformations in male reproductive organs,” according to their submission. It’s found in eight pesticide products approved for agricultural use in Canada, they said, and has been banned in Norway since 2007.

Triluralin, banned in Europe in 2010 due to toxicity to fish and its ability to travel by air, is one of the top selling herbicides in the Prairie Provinces, the groups said in their submission.

Aglukkaq, “within a reasonable time after receiving a request,” can decide whether or not to initiate a special review, according to section 17 of the Pest Control Products Act.



Science 2.0
Oct 15 2012

Greenland has areas of very clean water, the like of which just does not exist in developed nations, but also highly polluted water, making it an excellent location for studying the environmental impacts of chemicals

More than 10,000 tons of antibiotics are consumed in Europe each year and an estimated 30-60% of those pass through animals and humans completely unchanged. These different substances can then reach the ocean via hospitals, municipal sewage, fish farms and run-off from agriculture and landfills.

A research group from the University of Gothenburg wanted to examine the potential effects of accumulating antibiotics in the seabed, so off to Greenland they went.

“Greenland has no sewage treatment whatsoever, which means that waste water from inhabited areas is discharged straight into the sea,” says Maria Granberg. “So Greenland is home to both very clean and very polluted waters, which is great for comparing environmentally pristine areas with polluted ones.”

The soft sediments on the seabed act as a reservoir for hard-to-break-down substances that are released into the environment. Even substances that are not discharged directly into the sea gradually find their way there from the land and air via rainwater. This means that antibiotics can affect marine sediment ecosystems over a long period, with detrimental effects on natural marine communities of bacteria, among other things.

The marine sediment bacteria being studied are also important from a global perspective as they metabolize both nitrogen and carbon, which are linked to both eutrophication and climate problems. A key aspect is also that resistance genes can be transferred between bacteria.

“We know very little about how antibiotics affect natural systems and how antibiotic resistance develops and spreads in these systems,” says Granberg. “This knowledge is, however, vital if we are to identify the sources of, and understand, the mechanisms behind the development of antibiotic resistance, which constitutes a threat to both the functioning of ecosystems and human health.”


ARESST: Thanks to Tim for finding news below. 

THE HIDDEN PRICE OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS (no mention of CRD's P3 sludge energy centre)

Globe and Mail
Oct. 14 2012

Public-private partnerships are all the rage in Canada for big infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, waste-water plants and the like.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is a huge fan. So is Ontario, which has done more public-private partnerships, including 40 hospitals, than any other government in Canada.

Virtually every province and the federal government now have special agencies dedicated to funding and promoting so-called P3s.

Tens of billions of dollars have been sunk into some 180 projects, dating back to PEI’s Confederation Bridge and Toronto’s Highway 407 in the late 1990s. And many more are in the works, drawing investors from Europe and beyond.

Governments insist they’re “leveraging greater value” and generating “efficiencies” by offloading risk on the private sector. P3s are also more likely to deliver projects on time and on budget.

But at what price? Disturbing new research highlights some serious flaws in how governments tally the benefits of public-private partnerships versus conventional projects. Too little is known about how these contracts work, who benefits and who pays.

This week, public-private partnerships will take centre stage when the House of Commons operations committee resumes a series of hearings on P3s, stacked with witnesses who like them.

A P3 works essentially like leasing a car or TV, rather than paying cash up front. At the end of the day, governments pay substantially more, but if something goes wrong, someone else is responsible.

There are various P3 models. But in most cases, teams – typically made up of a contractor, an architect, a lender and sometimes an operator – bid on a project. The winning group puts up the money, takes on the construction risks and then gets repaid when the project is done. Sometimes, the consortium also operates a facility under a long-term contract, getting repaid in instalments over several years.

These deals are politically seductive. Governments like them because they push spending down the road, pointed out business professor Aidan Vining of Simon Fraser University, who argued in a recent study with University of British Columbia business professor Anthony Boardman that taxpayers are too often getting a raw deal.

“They get a service now and they get someone to pay for it later,” Prof. Vining said. “From a political perspective, there’s always an advantage to that.”

Governments are essentially “renting money” they could borrow more cheaply on their own because it’s politically expedient to defer expenses and avoid debt, Prof. Boardman added. P3 has become a “slogan” with often dubious benefits, he said.

Based on a new study of 28 Ontario P3 projects worth more than $7-billion, University of Toronto assistant professor Matti Siemiatycki and researcher Naeem Farooqi found that public-private partnerships cost an average of 16 per cent more than conventional tendered contracts. That’s mainly because private borrowers typically pay higher interest rates than governments. Transaction costs for lawyers and consultants also add about 3 per cent to the final bill.

To make an apples-to-apples comparison, Ontario factors in a risk premium compared with doing procurement the conventional way. The premium reflects the risk shouldered by the private partner, including construction delays, cost overruns, design flaws and fluctuating future revenues. The result: The average premium is 49 per cent, making the P3 the better value on paper in every case, according to the Siemiatycki-Farooqi study.

Unfortunately, quantifying those risks requires a bit of accounting hocus pocus – a concern highlighted by Ontario’s auditor-general. Or, as Mr. Siemiatycki and Mr. Farooqi put it: “No empirical evidence is provided to substantiate the risk allocations, making it difficult to assess their accuracy and validity.”

Without putting a fair price on risk, taxpayers will never know whether P3s are any cheaper than building things the conventional way.

Set the value too high, and P3s become vehicles for governments to subsidize inflated profits of powerful and well-connected contractors and financial institutions.

Notwithstanding these red flags, Ottawa and the provinces continue to embrace the public-private model. P3 Canada Inc., Ottawa’s $1.24-billion P3 fund, has sunk more than $300-million into various projects since the summer, including a GO Transit maintenance yard in Whitby, Ont., an airport in Iqaluit and Edmonton’s ring-road. This week’s hearings are likely aimed at building a case for spending even more in the next budget.

Lost in the fog is the real risk that current and future taxpayers are paying way too much for vital public infrastructure.

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