BUCHOLTZ: City of White Rock muddying the waters

Just when you think the White Rock water-utility takeover couldn’t get any murkier, it does – both literally and, more importantly, figuratively.

Just when you think the White Rock water-utility takeover couldn’t get any murkier, it does – both literally and, more importantly, figuratively.

In just one week, the public learned (yet again) the water is disgusting to look at; the federal government has moved in to help Semiahmoo First Nation get clean water and get out of any dealings with White Rock’s water system; and the city and Metro Vancouver are pulling out all the stops in court to keep every possible detail of the takeover of the water system secret.

The dirty water story came from Coldicutt Avenue resident Derek Sigurdson. He was leaving his house June 5 when he was stopped by a neighbour carrying a glass of brown water.

“He said, ‘does your water look like this?’” Sigurdson told Peace Arch News. “I said no and he said, ‘I think you’d better check.’”

When Sigurdson ran his taps, what he saw was enough to make him take pictures and video, which can be seen at peacearchnews.com.

“It was absolutely disgusting – it looked like coffee,” he said. “We’ve experienced turbidity in the water before… but this is the worst I’ve seen it.”

Last Friday, Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, came to Semiahmoo Park to announce $338,000 for the design of a new water-distribution and wastewater sewer system for Semiahmoo First Nation. SFN residents have been on a boil-water advisory since 2005.

Bennett’s visit marked the first time an indigenous affairs minister had visited the Semiahmoo First Nation.

The design will detail how SFN can connect to the Surrey water system, which is part of the Metro Vancouver water system. White Rock gave notice last year that it would cut off SFN’s access to its separate water system within 18 months, showing an appalling lack of neighbourliness.

Bennett noted, “Hooking up to a municipal service allows for fire hydrants and the potential for new subdivision, and allows for a comprehensive plan for the vision of that (SFN) community.”

Perhaps the most troubling story about the White Rock water system was one stating that both the city and Metro Vancouver are fighting an order by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to release documents related to the sale of the water utility to White Rock by Epcor.

The two government entities are asking for more than simply a judicial review of release of material – they’re also asking that ‘in-camera’ (non-public) material be sealed during the judicial-review process.

The city’s lawyers are also asking for an order that submissions to the court from both the petitioner and the respondents – OIPC and resident Ross Buchanan, whose original freedom-of-information request triggered the fight over releasing the documents – be filed in-camera.

This is an appalling attempt to have details which should come out in court kept secret, and is eerily similar to the way court proceedings are conducted in dictatorships.

White Rock and Metro Vancouver should withdraw their poorly thought-out attempts to keep any aspect of court proceedings secret.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Surrey Now-Leader. Email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com