Decision Day on DRAINAGE
I supported the transfer of our city drainage system to EPCOR today. The motion to transfer passed 7- 6.
I also stated very clearly that now is the time for City Council to become a more engaged representative of the shareholders of EPCOR. The citizens of Edmonton are the shareholder. City Council as the shareholders representative must expect more engagement with citizens, a deeper commitment to innovation and renewable energy and leadership on environmental stewardship and climate change adaptation (read more about that topic here).
I’ve provided the facts and details behind the proposal from EPCOR in a previous blog, which can you can read here.
Today, I want to talk about values and key considerations I applied to this decision.
These values are:
- Community Safety via expedited flood mitigation (climate change adaptation),
- Protecting our public interest, maintaining transparency and regulatory oversight of the drainage utility,
- Delivery of quality water, wastewater and sanitary service and
- Environmental Stewardship and climate change leadership.
As I have stated previously, the following questions were important for me to have answered:
Can it hasten our flood mitigation work at the neighbourhood level?
Do we maintain governance oversight between the City, EPCOR and the public?
Can we ensure responsive and valued service is provided to citizens?
Since EPCOR already has our drinking water and wastewater systems, how does this improve efficiency and financial performance of the Utility?
Will we continue to have access to provincial and federal grants, helping us with storm water management in the face of flooding risks?
I was very satisfied with the work our administration did with EPCOR to provide answers to these questions. The recent report can be read here.
Protecting our neighbourhoods
Edmonton neighbourhoods, homeowners, and business owners face tremendous risk and challenges related to flooding. Our city, like many others, needs to adapt to the known effects of climate change. One of the main effects has been an increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events that have caused much of the flooding we’ve experienced in recent years. While our current drainage utility has been diligently trying to keep up with the necessary capital projects to reduce flooding and upgrade aging infrastructure, the independent financial assessment provided to council stated clearly that in an era of more aggressive construction significant efficiency can be gained through EPCOR. Read the Grant Thorton report here, specifically page 41 of that report.
Protecting transparency and accountability
Edmonton City Council, through our utility committee will continue to regulate our drainage utility as we do today and will make changes to our existing EPCOR Rates and Procedures Bylaw, along with our rate setting process (referred to as the Performance Based Rates or PBR) to require regular reporting and engagement with Utility committee and the public as they are interested. The bottom line is Utility Committee in public meetings will continue to set the rates, establish the amount of work done, the pace of that work and the environmental standards, goals, and metrics associated with this work, much like we do today.
Protecting valued service
I think we can all agree that no matter what decision was made today Edmontonians are among the luckiest people in the world. More than 800 million people globally don’t have access to clean drinking water and 2.5 billion people do not have adequate sanitation according to the United Nations. In Edmonton, we have both and some of the best of both. EPCOR has delivered excellent drinking water and wastewater services to our city and is committed to leadership on source water (the river) protection. I have great confidence in EPCOR to provide similarly excellent sanitary and stormwater drainage service to our citizens and ratepayers.
Tough decision but I feel it was the right one.
This was not an easy or automatic decision for me. There are risks, which the Grant Thornton report itemizes but I think they are small and largely mitigated in the Letter of Intent. And, I certainly think the benefits outweigh the risks. The motion that was passed today is copied below. I am happy to speak to anyone about my decision and look forward to continuing to work very closely with EPCOR as a shareholder representative, regulator, and partner in continuing to offer excellent drainage services to Edmontonians while increasing our commitment to environmental leadership.
1. That the transfer of the Drainage Utility assets and liabilities to EPCOR in accordance with Attachment 1 - EPCOR Proposal - Letter of Intent to Financial and Corporate Services report CR_4436 be approved with the following additions:
Include a requirement that EPCOR provides updates to every Utility Committee meeting in 2017 and 2018 with respect to the Drainage Utility.
- The Asset and Liability Transfer Agreement include a requirement for City Council approval through a public hearing of any proposed sale of all or substantially all of the City of Edmonton Drainage Utility assets.
- That the City and EPCOR submit a joint request to the Privacy Commissioner requesting clarity on the jurisdiction of FOIP and appeals jurisdiction, and if it is determined that FOIP does not apply, EPCOR and the City will ensure there is a requirement in the appropriate legal instrument for an appeals body that is mutually agreeable to the parties
- That the transfer agreement and the Rates and Procedures bylaw direct regular reporting regarding performance, provision of service, changing context and ability for Council to make inquiries of EPCOR
2 . That the City Manager be authorized to negotiate and settle the terms of, and execute and deliver on behalf of the City of Edmonton, all agreements, documents and instruments required to give effect to the transfer of the Drainage Utility assets and liabilities to EPCOR in accordance with Attachment 1 - EPCOR Proposal - Letter of Intent to Financial and Corporate Services report CR_4436, and including the additions in Part 1, as the City Manager determines to be necessary or desirable and in the best interests of Edmontonians generally.
3. That the City Manager prepare recommendations for revisions to all applicable bylaws to effect the transfer, including Bylaw 16200 - Drainage Bylaw and the proposed EPCOR Drainage Bylaw and return to Utility Committee on June 9, 2017.
4. That the City Manager prepare recommendations for revisions to Bylaw 12294 - EPCOR Rates Procedures Bylaw to provide Council or Utility Committee with authority to require EPCOR to provide:
a. Periodic reports relating to the utilities regulated by Council
b. Reports relating to information requested by Utility Committee
c. Audit Reports