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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 | I recently returned from a study tour of public/private projects in Chile.

I learned that the Chilean national government has privatized many of their roads, water, energy utilities, etc. They require carefully structured deals that are submitted to the government, not the private companies.

These contracts generally have standards that ensure performance, cap profits in good times (any excess over an agreed maximum reverts to the government), subsidize operations when needed in bad times, and have detailed proposals in place long before a contract is awarded.

After 10-plus years of dealing with Bajagua, I was skeptical these public/private deals could work successfully. But what I saw in Chile suggests these true “partnerships” are working well for both the public and the private companies, thanks in large part to transparent bidding processes, governmental oversight, and responsibly designed agreements.

In contrast, this project has none of those safeguards in place. The USIBWC has kept the public in the dark about so-called “diplomatic” negotiations that are really closed door business deals that enrich the private entity at a marked up cost to taxpayers.

The process has dragged on for over a decade, costing taxpayers millions more than a “typical” solution while delaying a more cost effective project in the U.S. (See the BECC and NADBank sites for their costs of sanitation projects along the border.)

Worse, without additional hookups, neighborhoods in Tijuana will continue to discharge sewage into canyons and, ultimately, the river that crosses into the U.S. The private company has offered no solution or funding for increased collection systems, so beach closures are likely to continue even with their system in place.

Finally, the project has changed so dramatically since the EIS last year that the documents have little in common with what is happening in Mexico.

In short: the “public” has disappeared from this partnership.

Lori Saldaña is an Assemblywoman in California’s 76th District.

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