One of BC Hydro Corp.'s newest board members has expressed concerns about the use of public-private partnerships, Public Eye has learned. In an interview this morning, John Knappett - the chief executive officer of the Knappett Group of Companies - wryly acknowledged, "As you know from my previous statements, I'm not on the same page as Larry Blain" - the head of the government-owned company responsible for promoting such partnerships who is also a recently-appointed BC Hydro director.
The statements Mr. Knappett referred to date back to 2008. At the time, he was quoted by the The Business Examiner's Steve Weatherbe as stating, "I don't believe these projects are cheaper."
Mr. Knappett also reportedly told Mr. Weatherbe his company wouldn't be competing for the contract to build Victoria's new $1.2 billion sewage treatment plant if it was a public-private partnership.
"I won't be bidding. Farmer Construction won't be either. This is my bread and butter. I've built these plants here and on the mainland. But I only do $80 million in business a year. I don't have the staff to do this and nobody else around here does either...We're being dealt out of the major projects."
In an interview with Public Eye, Mr. Knappett clarified, "In the delivery of some very large projects, I think (a public-private partnership) probably makes sense for the owner and some of the ones we have done in British Columbia I don't think make sense."
As an example of something that didn't make sense, he pointed to the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement Project - a $600 million public-private-partnership awarded to S2S Transportation Group.
According to him, that work could have been broken into many smaller projects and undertaken by regional designers, engineers and architects - as happened in the case of the Vancouver Island Highway Project.
"It's those kind of projects that I'm opposed to being wrapped-up and handed-off to one entity," he explained, adding it's "better value for the taxpayer to do it traditionally."
That being said, "If it's a single huge plant or a single huge dam or anything else - and, again, I don't want to comment on anything to do with BC Hydro - then maybe a large design, build contract makes sense, maybe a large design, build and finance contract might make sense. I don't know. It really would depend on the case of the individual project and what the revenue stream is from it and that kind of thing."
As for how he came to be appointed to BC Hydro's board, Mr. Knappett said, "There was a number of people in the construction industry that suggested there should be some input given the large capital plans of BC Hydro - that the construction industry should have someone speaking for them. Again, they don't appoint people as lobbyists. But I think it would be fair to say people within the B.C. construction industry put my name forward."
"There's a lot of construction that is going to happen over the next ten to 15 years at BC Hydro," he continued - a reference to Site C, as well as the northwest and proposed northeast transmission lines. "And I guess there was a feeling that having some B.C. construction experience on the board was valuable."