Veolia Water Contract: Media Blitz Marks Second Phase of Dispute

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Members of Dump Veolia and a graphic from Veolia's St. Louis outreach.
  • Members of Dump Veolia and a graphic from Veolia's St. Louis outreach.

When the numbers began to roll in on the eve of March 5, it became clear that Mayor Francis Slay was on his way to his fourth, record-breaking term. With the hopes of his challenger, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, went those of the members of Dump Veolia, who had effectively turned a pending city water contract into a legitimate campaign issue.

Reed had pledged to scuttle the deal between the St. Louis City Water Division and Veolia North America, the largest water-services company on the globe. Slay's administration had approved of the contract and were insistent that the partnership was the best thing for the water department.

With the primary election behind us, the groups with the most at stake -- Veolia itself and Dump Veolia -- are taking their appeals directly to the public.

See also: -A plan to overhaul the St. Louis Water Division leaves the Slay administration all wet -Veolia Water Contract Stays Alive; Destined for Board of Aldermen Hearing -Veolia Water Contract Officially "On Hold" Says Mayor Francis Slay

What's at stake is a potential five-year public-private partnership between Veolia and the city's water department. The contract currently pending approval (Slay declared it officially "on hold" before the election) is only for a four-month, $250,000 "Phase 1" planning stage. But if the city agrees with Veolia's cost-saving recommendations for St. Louis, "Phase 2" implementation would take place over years. The company estimates it could uncover $8.8 million per year in savings and additional revenue, a portion of which it would take as its fee. Read about the origins of the contract in our cover story, "Hosed."

Francis Slay, left, and Lewis Reed, right - PHOTO BY THEO R. WELLING
  • Photo by Theo R. Welling
  • Francis Slay, left, and Lewis Reed, right

After Daily RFT broke news of the contract's existence, concerned parties from social-justice, environmental and labor groups came together to form Dump Veolia, a coalition that calls the French multinational company a bad actor. Veolia has faced scrutiny before in other markets, and opposition to transit lines and waste management it provides to Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

In an attempt to answer some of those concerns, Veolia launched STL-Water-Future.com, a one-stop shop for all things Veolia. In addition to documents laying out its proposal to the city, the site releases a weekly newsletter touting its projects in other cities, its relationships with labor and its accolades. There's also a lengthy "fact-check" section that tackles many of the points brought up by Dump Veolia.

Continue for more on the latest developments in the Veolia controversy.

Over the weekend, a letter to the editor appeared in the Post-Dispatch, penned by Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies (and former Veolia executive):

The elected officials of St. Louis, including Mayor Francis Slay, should be applauded for both exploring options to improve the water services of the citizens they represent and recognizing how the expertise of the private sector can help them achieve that goal. Today, nearly 73 million Americans receive water service from systems that work with the private sector. It's an old practice: Private water companies have been providing quality service to their customers across the country since the 1800s.

An op-ed also appeared recently in the St. Louis Beacon, written by David Gadis, executive vice president of Veolia Water North America.

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Dump Veolia member Michael Berg answered with his own letter, "St. Louis shouldn't let Veolia run water division," in today's P-D:

Don't believe the hype of the well-funded PR campaign by Veolia to sell St. Louis on its plan to profit from our water division.

Veolia isn't just looking for a short-term consulting job. According to a recent review by the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, the proposed contract between St. Louis and Veolia would effectively eliminate to ability of the city to run the water division in the future. It would cede this power to Veolia.

The contract is currently stuck at the gates of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which will not hear it until a representative of Slay's office, Eddie Roth, has met with all opposition groups. Though there is an E&A meeting scheduled for this Thursday, it appears Dump Veolia will not be calling a rally (as it has in the past as a show of numbers). Alderwoman Dionne Flowers is expected to spearhead public hearings on Veolia as the chair of public utilities (assuming she retains the title after the BOA does its chairmanship assignments after the April 2 general election).

Follow Jessica Lussenhop on Twitter at @Lussenpop. E-mail the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.

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