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'Public money is gone': Sask. coalition calls for auditors report into Communities of Tomorrow project

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A coalition of Saskatchewan political parties are calling on the provincial auditor to investigate what exactly happened to $34 million in funding – which was granted to a research group more than two decades ago.

Communities of Tomorrow (CoT) was a research group announced in 2003 to provide leading edge research into community infrastructure needs.

Partnered with the National Research Council at the University of Regina – the group produced several papers before disbanding in 2013.

“Communities of Tomorrow was at the heart of investigating asbestos cement water pipes in Canada,” said Naomi Hunter, leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan at a news conference on Monday.

“Communities of Tomorrow is gone. The NRC Research Centre at the University of Regina is gone. At least $34 million of public money is gone.”

The Green Party, the Progressive Conservatives and the Saskatchewan Progress Party want the provincial auditor to investigate how organization’s funding was spent.

“Where is that guidance document on asbestos cement water pipes? It was supposed to be on the SUMA website. Where is it?” Hunter asked.

Water infrastructure in Saskatchewan communities contain more than 1,000 km of asbestos water pipes, more than half of which are located in Regina.

A W5 investigation found asbestos fibres were potentially released when underground pipes break.

Exposure that some medical experts say can lead to cancer in the gastrointestinal tracts.

“The W5 program that came to investigate - they tested water at one pipe break and they found 370,000 fibres in a litre of water,” former journalist Julian Branch explained.

“The City of Regina had been testing for seven years. They found no asbestos in the water so that’s a stark contrast.”

In a written statement to CTV News, the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) said its records indicate that CoT project was given the mandate of finding innovative solutions related to urban municipal infrastructure issues like road maintenance, solid waste, potable water, wastewater, lighting, recreation and procurement for all of the listed issues.

“SUMA has no records of any reports done by Communities of Tomorrow (CoT) related to asbestos cement water pipes, nor of a mandate to do so,” the statement read.

“Nearly all of the funding had been expended by CoT by the time they began to wind down in 2013, and what little intellectual and physical property that was left was given to SUMA, to help continue the goals of CoT into the future.”

The organization went on to say that it hosted a variety of research and engineering reports on its website that included infrastructure renewal, use of sludge and bio-solids and cold-patching asphalt.

Once that information became dated, SUMA’s website underwent a redesign. The organization concluded by saying it currently has no involvement with the communitiesoftomorrow.ca website.

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