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Former councillor slams 'intimidating' city letter

A letter from the City of St. Albert and Neptune Technology Group reminding residents to book an installation time for new smart water meters has one former city councillor asking for an official apology.
water meter CC 9937.eps
SMART METER — A view of the new online water meters being installed in St. Albert

A letter from the City of St. Albert and Neptune Technology Group reminding residents to book an installation time for new smart water meters has one former city councillor asking for an official apology.

In remarks to city council on Monday where he distributed copies of the letter in question, Jerry Manegre protested a Jan. 18 final notice for the water meter replacement, which called the upgrade "mandatory" and stated – in bold and underlined type – that property owners could face penalties, including shut-off of their water, if they do not book an appointment.

Manegre, who sat on city council from 1987 to 1992, said the letter left him and his wife Jeanne disappointed and saddened.

"(We) never expected to be on the receiving end of this kind of letter from the City of St. Albert, threatening the cut-off of our water supply. It's upsetting," he said.

"In my opinion, the letter is intimidating and coercive."

Manegre asked for an apology from the city and asked them to provide more information to residents about the smart meters. He said he fears residents who have not done their homework on smart meters could feel coerced into having their meters upgraded.

"My real concern and my appeal is that the health, safety, privacy, choices and dignity of my fellow residents are considered and respected," he said.

Coun. Jacquie Hansen – who recalled the dismay she experienced from receiving a similar letter from a telephone company – apologized for the offence the letter caused.

Utilities director Kevin Cole said property owners received five notifications to upgrade their meters. He said a "significant amount of people" generally do not respond on the first four contacts, and the wording of the fifth notification was designed to elicit a response from residents.

The letter in question went out to approximately 100 residents, he added.

"Ideally, we would have had contact with these people in the first four contacts before it got to this point, and then they could have conveyed their concern," Cole said.

"We do need to get people's attention. Unfortunately, we have to ramp this up because there's people who again get letters and just throw them out."

Manegre also provided councillors with copies of other notifications he received prior to the fifth notice. None of the other notifications said the upgrade was mandatory or that property owners could face repercussions for not scheduling an installation time.

Health, privacy concerns at centre of opt-out

The city began its replacement of 21,292 water meters in December as part of a $6.4-million upgrade. The upgrade is being handled by Neptune Technology Group. The new meters, which are linked to the city's efforts to reduce water use, record water use remotely and transmit readings over radiofrequency (RF) so residents can read their water usage on a secure website.

But residents like Manegre are concerned about the potential health effects associated with exposure to RF waves, which is a form of electromagnetic radiation similar to waves emitted by other wireless devices such as Wi-Fi and cellphones.

Another common concern residents have with smart meters is the potential for privacy violation as the meters track water usage, which could be extrapolated to determine their habits and when they are home.

"We have taken steps in our home to reduce our exposure. We shouldn't have to discuss our reasons in public," Manegre said.

In December, Cole told the Gazette the meters have two parts and property owners could opt-out of having the RF transmitter attached to the outside of their house for a fee, although they would still be required to have the water meter itself upgraded. The meter itself does not include an RF device.

On Monday, Cole said three or four residents have contacted the city to opt-out.

Manegre's presentation prompted a motion from Coun. Sheena Hughes for a program to give residents disclosure and "informed consent" about the new meters. The motion also calls for a halt to the roll-out of smart meters until the information program is implemented.

"The problem I have is there is no disclosure that there are two components to this that are being upgraded, and one is optional and one isn't," she said.

"I'm really trying to grasp how we can send out a letter of this nature to people and say that it's acceptable."

The Jan. 18 notice residents received also contained an incorrect reference to a bylaw in regard to meter replacement being mandatory. The letter refers to Bylaw 28/2016, which in December was consolidated with the city's water bylaw, Bylaw 5-2001.

Cole said that error has been corrected for future notices.

April Hudson

About the Author: April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette
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