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Friday, December 21, 2012

Veolia Water Contract Sent Back to Committee Over Concerns About Company's Reputation

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 9:00 AM

City leaders are no longer going with the flow on Veolia.
  • City leaders are no longer going with the flow on Veolia.

Seemingly overnight, the fortunes of a lucrative contract between the City of St. Louis and Veolia Water have been reversed.

Earlier this month, Daily RFT broke the news that the city's Water Division recently completed the bidding process for a consulting contract aimed at cutting spending at the utility. The winning bidder was Veolia, a French multinational company.

Water department workers were the first to contact Daily RFT about the contract, fearing that their jobs were in danger (both the official Veolia bid and the mayor's office have emphatically stated there will be no layoffs). But now a new group has come to the fore and after less than 24 hours of emails and phone calls to City Hall, the contract's approval has been stalled.

Veolia is the largest water services provider in the world and no stranger to controversy. As we wrote in early December, environmental groups have had their eye on the company for some time, and carefully track violations and lawsuits stemming from their involvement in municipal water treatment. Click here to read about those concerns. But conservationists and labor interests are not the only ones who have beef with the company.

A group known as the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee has stepped into the fray. Identifying themselves as a "group of Palestinians, Israelis, Muslims, Jews, Christians...united by a commitment to a lasting peace in Israel/Palestine," their members began contacting city officials after learning that the contract, which has not been signed yet, was moving forward to the Estimate and Apportionment Committee. Approval by the E&A committee, made up of Mayor Francis Slay, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, and Comptroller Darlene Green, is the final administrative step needed before the contract can be officially enacted.

The group's objection to Veolia centers around the operation of waste, water, and transportation services on disputed territory in the West Bank. Several Veolia subsidiaries are on contract to run busses, a tramway, waste disposal, a landfill, and water services for Jewish people making their homes in settlements on disputed land in the West Bank. The group argues that by making life comfortable in these controversial settlements, Veolia is prolonging the long and bloody conflict between Israel and Palestine for profit. They characterize the fact that Israelis can use the trams, busses, roadways, but Palestinians can not as a form of segregation. In 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared that the tramway was a "clear violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions." STL-PSC is part of a much larger, global effort to convince governments worldwide to divest from companies that in any way support Israeli settlements.

"We learned of the Veolia negotiations and immediately decided this was something we wanted to make city officials aware of," says Sandra Tamari, a member of STL-PSC.

As soon as it became known that the water contract was on the agenda for approval at Wednesday afternoon's E&A meeting, members of STL-PSC sent a total of 180 emails to Green, Slay, and Reed, and began calling their offices as well. A spokesperson for Green's office says their lines were "flooding" with calls the morning of the vote.

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