Four months after the mayor's office shelved a controversial city water contract indefinitely, public meetings to discuss the deal are finally scheduled.
Tomorrow's Aldermanic Public Utilities Committee meeting has one item on its agenda: "Discussion of Veolia Contract." A second meeting will also take place on July 2nd in the evening. The public is invited to both.
The meetings are meant to fulfill Mayor Francis Slay's promise that the contract between Veolia North America and the city's water division would not move forward until all opposition parties have a chance to voice their concerns in a public forum.
See also: - French Firm, Veolia, Wins Consulting Contract with St. Louis Water Division - Hosed: A plan to overhaul the St. Louis Water Division leaves the Slay administration all wet - Veolia Water Contract Officially "On Hold" Says Mayor Francis Slay
Daily RFT broke news that a contract between the city water division and a multinational company called Veolia was nearing final approval back in December 2012. In our feature story, "Hosed," we traced the roots of the contract with the help of concerned water department whistleblowers, and explored the role the controversy played in the 2013 mayoral race between Slay and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed. Check out that story here.
Environmentalists and social justice advocates have been battling to stop the deal ever since, culminating in the creation of a group called St. Louis Dump Veolia. The group takes issue with Veolia's role in global political conflicts, its environmental record and its employment practices. Read more about their position here.
In response to public outcry, Slay promised that the deal would be put on hold until public hearings allowed everyone, including Veolia representatives, to present a case for and against the contract. He remains supportive of the contract. Here's what his spokeswoman Maggie Crane e-mailed Daily RFT in response to our inquiry about tomorrow's meeting (emphasis ours):
The proposed contract with Veolia is only a consulting contract to help the City find ways to avoid large rate hikes. If the City does nothing, our water rates will go up by 6 percent. That's a lot for a lot of people, and that's why the Mayor has directed the Water Division to do everything it can to be good stewards of the City's water and of the taxpayers' money.
Colleen Kelly, a spokeswoman for Dump Veolia, says her group will be present tomorrow morning and on July 2. The group remains adamant the city does not enter a business relationship with Veolia.
"Nobody is saying we should do nothing. We're aware the water department needs infrastructure upgrades," she says. "We think it's a little bit ridiculous to consult with a company that has such a horrible track record."
Ward 24 Alderman Scott Ogilvie, who sits on the Public Utilities Committee, says he is concerned about the state of the Water Division's finances but also wants more information about the other companies that originally bid along with Veolia.
"Obviously the mayor's office is in favor of going with Veolia. I think they want to present this as, 'Either we take the Veolia contract or we raise your rate,'" he says. "What I'm kind of interested in -- and no one has provided me with this information -- is what the other companies proposed when we issued this RFP."
Tomorrow's meeting of the Public Utilities Committee is from 10 a.m. to noon in Room 208 at City Hall. The July 2nd meeting is from 6 to 8 p.m., also in Room 208.