A good-sized crowd was on hand Wednesday night at the Grand Forks Christian Centre for an open house on water meters. The session was put together by the People’s Review Commission, an ad-hoc group formed recently that is against the city’s water meter installation project.
There were several speakers who talked about the various dangers of water and smart meters.
Local resident Karin Bagn spoke about the legalities of the city and the contractors installing water meters against the wishes of most residents. Bagn practices law in the U.S., and is in the process of passing the Canadian Law exams—she did not speak as a lawyer, she stressed, but as an area resident.
Bagn spoke about ways to challenge the water bylaws which council is looking at putting in upon fourth and final reading on Aug. 18. She also spoke about how the People’s Review Commission is requesting a copy of the contract between the city and the water meter contractors, Neptune Technology Group.
“The government does not have any immunity from either the constitution or the will of the people—we just have to speak up,” she told the crowd. “If we look at these bylaws and we recognize that the city government is on record as refusing any comment to the bylaws, any suggestions that there might be illegal and/or unconstitutional provisions in the bylaws…Once the horse is out of the barn, guys, it’s going to be very hard and we’re going to be saddled with the bill.”
At the conclusion of the speakers, there was a question and answer period with several audience members asking questions. Mayor Brian Taylor and several councillors were on hand as observers.
Beverley Tripp, one of the organizers and speakers, said the group was very pleased with the turnout and how the evening went.
“The thing that made me feel most excited was that people got a chance to actually say what they felt and express their concerns,” said Tripp. “I think people in the community have needed that kind of forum. City council has not been able or willing to provide that kind of forum. So tonight, we had about 60 people that got to hear about the water meters and what they really feel about it.”
Although there was no rebuttal from city staff or the council members attending, Tripp was glad people got their say. She was not surprised that Mayor Taylor, Councillor Gary Smith and others did not speak up.
“I think on their part it was the better part of discretion for them not to speak,” she said. “I think they understood it was an info session by the community for the community. I respected the fact they allowed the people to have their say and they weren’t willing to get into any boxing match. I think the non-response was appropriate under the circumstances.”
Tripp said she was very impressed with the presentations from all the speakers.
“I was thrilled with the presenters,” she said. “I think their information was educational. Certainly Karin apprised us of things most of us don’t have any clue about. As citizens, any resident should have a handle on what their rights are. I’m blown away from what I learned tonight.”
After the meeting, Taylor told the Gazette he had spoken to one of the info session attendees asking him if the city was going to address all the questions raised at the meeting.
“We’ve done all that,” he said. “We’ve done all those documents. We’ve put the correct information out in different forms. We’ve mailed it out, we’ve put it on the paper, we’ve put it on the radio. We have copies of all that if people come forward but we’re not going to do another concerted mail out to this group at this late date.”
Taylor said it was a very broad spectrum of concerns the presenters spoke about including the recent smart meter fires in Saskatchewan. The province of Saskatchewan recalled 105,000 smart (hydro) meters after eight caught fire.
“The ones that stood out that we can answer immediately is the fires in Saskatchewan,” he said. “I think we can look at the technical end of that and realize it was a pretty unique situation with that product, that electric meter. They were hoping it would be a reason for council to turn around the decision on this but in fact there was a fairly accurate quote from me stating, ‘If we elect a council that tries to turn this around, the city will be out a lot of money.’”
Taylor said the contract with Neptune has been signed and they will begin installations soon.
During question period at the end of the session, several citizens spoke up to questions about the water meters such as: why can’t there be a referendum and how long until water meters come to the rural areas of Grand Forks.
One of the speakers, Julia Butler, responded stating that she had heard from the RDKB that they were considering installing water meters in one of their areas. “There’s also the questions of meters on private wells that’s coming up,” she said. “I’m not very educated on it, but if you do your research—it’s in the works.”
Taylor also said that any thoughts about him saying the city somehow pushing water meters into the rural area surrounding Grand Forks is false.
“I’m racking my brain trying to figure out where they got that idea from,” he said. “They asked me a while back what I would think of having a water meter in your house (Taylor lives in Area D). I said I’d welcome it. If they extrapolated that (to mean) that the city had the power or influence to expand the water meters past our borders (they’re wrong). There were many people there from the rural area that heard we were going to put water meters in their area (Area D). It’s very complicated to put meters in a rural area to start with.”
RDKB board chair Grace McGregor concurred that there are no plans for rural water meters.
“There’s no talk of that whatsoever,” she told the Gazette. “If there was there would be such a long process because every director would be involved, the province would be involved, the regional district would be involved. So, no plans whatsoever.”