Environmental groups are urging residents of Chester and Montgomery counties to attend upcoming meetings of the municipal authority that provides water and sewer service to their homes to voice their thoughts on its proposed sale to a private company .
Earlier this month, the board of directors of the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority – a public non-profit organization – announced that it had received an offer from Aqua America to buy its sewer system for $1.1 billion. The disclosure came after a series of meetings between the two entities that had not been publicly announced.
Organizations such as Food and Water Watch, Keep Water Affordable and Neighbors Opposed to Privatization Efforts (NOPE) had spoken out against the proposal, which would impact the roughly 75,000 people in the southeastern Pennsylvania region. which benefit from the sewer service of the authority.
Residents of Birmingham and West Vincent in Chester County and Upper Dublin and Springfield in Montgomery County, who are on public sewer systems, are among those customers. The proposed sale would not affect the authority’s water customers.
“The sale of the BCWSA sewerage system to the for-profit company Aqua will most likely lead to significant increases in sewerage tariffs for households, businesses and municipal customers, and remove local public control of an essential service. “said Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, a West Whiteland resident and eastern Pennsylvania organizer for Food and Water Watch.
“This is an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and oppose this privatization,” she said. Marcille-Kerslake accused the authority of hiding the process of negotiating the sale proposal with Aqua from the public until it was announced by surprise two weeks ago.
“This clandestine transaction is a recipe for disaster for (the authority’s) customers,” he said in a press release. “The process was ripe for manipulation by private interests at the expense of the public.”
The authority will hold two forums on Tuesday for the public to comment on the potential sale. Hearings will be held from 10 a.m. to noon in the Great Hall at Bucks County Community College’s Upper Bucks Campus in East Rockhill; and 5-7 p.m. the same day in Gallagher Room at the Rollins Center at Bucks County Community College’s main campus in Newtown.
The authority will host a separate, invitation-only meeting for city officials who are “retail partners” with the authority Monday at 4 p.m. at BCCC Newtown Campus to learn more about the proposal.
Sales of public water and sewage systems to large private companies like Aqua have become more common and are raising concerns about labor, cost, and environmental issues.
Currently, Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority sewer customers pay an average of $48.18 for 4,167 gallons. Aqua Pennsylvania recently pushed a plan to raise sewer rates for several cities it serves, with no rate per 4,000 gallons used lower than the authority’s rate and the highest being $138.50 for 4,000 gallons used.
Aqua presented its official purchase offer on July 12. The council voted 3 to 1, with one abstention, to agree to a one-year exclusivity agreement stipulating that if it sold the sewage system within that time, it would be to Aqua.
In a letter to clients, John Cordisco, Chairman of the Board, said: “It is important to know that we have not made a final decision on the acquisition offer. We want stakeholders, ratepayers and community members to have an opportunity to review the terms of the agreement.
On its website, the authority said any decision to sell the system must ensure taxpayer protection for the next 10 years; that $1 billion in revenue would go to Bucks County and its taxpayers; the buyer agrees to comply with environmental regulations; job security for all employees; and public transparency.
Cordisco said proceeds from the sale could be used to minimize rate increases over the next 10 years, including a full freeze in the first year and are estimated to only increase by $20 per year. months in 2033.
BCWSA would retain ownership of its $300 million water supply system.
According to its website, is one of the largest water and sewer authorities in Pennsylvania, currently providing water and sewer services to more than 100,000 household and business accounts, and some 525 000 people in the southeastern region of Pennsylvania. Its operating profit is derived directly from service revenues received from water and sewer customers. It is an independent, not-for-profit agency established in 1962 under the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act.
Aqua Pennsylvania is an essential utility company and serves more than 1.4 million residents in 32 counties across the state, including Chester and Montgomery. Essential Utilities describes itself on its website as “one of the largest publicly traded utilities of water, wastewater, and natural gas in the United States.”
To contact editor Michael P. Rellahan, call 610-696-1544.