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Concerns Raised Over Consulting Contract With St. Louis City’s Water Division

Matthew Black

Detractors of a French utility company used a public hearing Tuesday night to again raise concerns about a potential consulting contract between St. Louis City’s Water Division and Veolia.

A key point of contention is whether or not the possible $250,000 agreement would open the door to privatizing the city’s water department.

Grace Morris is with Corporate Accountability International and said the company has a history of slowly taking over water services around the world.

“This is our most essential public service, it’s crucial that we keep it in public hands,” Morris said.

Morris and others said the company has left behind a trail of environmental problems at other projects it has managed.   They said the Water Division faces some serious challenges, to be sure, but contracting with Veolia is not the answer.  

Anna Baltzer is with the St. Louis Palestinian Solidarity Committee and the St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace.  She said the company participates in a bussing system near a plant it operates in the West Bank that is akin to apartheid.  

“I’ve seen the way that Veolia runs busses on segregated roads that are off limits to Palestinians simply because they’re Muslims or Christian,” Baltzer said. “We should not enter into a contract with a corporation that practices segregation and discrimination across the world.”

Veolia Spokesman, Scott Edwards, strongly rebuffed concerns about the company’s environmental record and intent to buy the Water Division.   Ultimately, Edwards said, the company can find ways to help the city avoid a rate increase.   

“We want to do for St. Louis exactly what we’re doing for New York City, which is actually one of the best managed water facilities in the world, what we’re doing for Pittsburg and what we’re doing for Washington D.C.,” Edwards said.  “We want to bring that solution to St. Louis.”

During the hearing, a representative for the company pointed to a $50,000 equipment upgrade it made to the way fluoride is added to the water system in New York City that resulted in an annual savings of $350,000.   

Edwards reiterated that the contract is only focused on consulting and said that misinformation has been circulated regarding the operations of Veolia and its subsidiary, Transdev, in Isreal.

“We, through our subsidiary Transdev, operate 130 bus lines and the Jerusalem light rail,” Edwards said.  “We employ Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and Jews.”

Water Commissioner, Curt Skouby, said only a vote of the people to change the city’s charter could clear a path for a company to buy the utility. Public concerns about the contract with Veolia prompted St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to postpone plans to sign the deal earlier this year.

Approval of the deal rests in the hands of the city’s three member Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a date for a final vote has not been set.  

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd

Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.

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