Aqua executives listen to Bucks residents
While questions still abound over the proposed sale of the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority’s sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania for $1.1 billion last week, concern turned to continued speculation. on the interest of the private company for the water system.
The water system is currently not part of the proposed sale which has been met with stiff opposition, including at Wednesday’s BCWSA board meeting, amid concerns from ratepayers and city officials that Aqua, a private utility, increases its rates for sewer services after purchasing other public systems.
After:Bucks County Matters proposed the $1 billion sale of the sewer system to the private Aqua; cities clash
Bucks County, in its review of the proposal, sent a list of questions about the sale to the authority and wants answers by Monday. Board members also want to know what Bucks County would do with the nearly $1 billion in proceeds it could raise if a sale took place.
Although the water system is not part of the agreement, not everyone is convinced that it will always be the case.
After Wednesday’s meeting, BCWSA executive director Ben Jones again said the authority has no plans to sell its water system to Aqua Pennsylvania and parent company Aqua, Essential Utilities. But Essential’s chairman and chief executive, Christopher Franklin, said he would like to buy the North Penn and North Wales water authorities which treat water for distribution to customers in the BCWSA water supply as well as their own customers.
“I would love to buy North Penn and North Wales and we could handle it much better than them,” Franklin said.
He made the comment after being asked about a statement Tony Bellitto, executive director of the North Penn Water Authority, made earlier this month.
Bellitto said if Aqua ever tries to buy the BCWSA water system, which buys 8 million gallons a day of treated water from North Penn and North Wales’ Forest Park treatment plant in Chalfont, North Penn and North Wales would turn off the pump they own which draws water from the Delaware River into Bucks County’s Lake Galena before being shipped to Forest Park for treatment.
Lake Galena holds 1.8 billion gallons of raw water, Jones said Wednesday evening.
BCWSA signed a lease agreement with Bucks County last year for $24.8 million so BCWSA would have access to more water from the lake if it ever needed it during a drought emergency. , although he did not expect something to happen here as it happens in the western states. Jones pointed out Wednesday night that the BCWSA has no plans to sell its water system to Aqua.
But Bellitto said Thursday that Franklin’s comment shows Aqua Pennsylvania has its eye on the area’s water systems even as it pursues BCWSA sewer service. Authorities in North Penn and North Wales currently withdraw around 20 million gallons of water a day from the lake for their own use, plus the 8 million to be treated and then sold to the BCWSA.
After:Bucks County approves $24.7 million deal to lease Galena Lake from water authority. Here’s what you need to know
“That’s not going to happen. If he ever tries to do something like that, he’ll be shut down immediately,” Bellitto said. “For him to pretend he can do a better job is nonsense. We do a great job and provide excellent service to our customers.”
Robert Bender, Executive Director of the North Wales Water Authority, said: “The North Wales Water Authority (NWWA) strongly opposes the privatization of public and operated water or sewage systems. This includes the proposed sale of the BCWSA Sanitary Sewer System.”
At the BCWSA meeting, board chairman John Cordisco pointed out that the board hadn’t made a decision on a sewer sale to Aqua because it took the heat from the ratepayers who protested against the board even considering the offer, saying that Aqua, as a private company, must make a profit and support its shareholders and raised customer rates in several other municipalities in Pennsylvania where it now owns sewer or water service.
A woman who lives in a community already served by Aqua said her sewer rate has gone from $78 in 2017 to $137 a month now. “What do you think Aqua will do to these poor people,” she asked, pointing at the audience.
Tom Tosti, a local director of the American Federation of State, Local, and Municipal Employees, wondered how Jones could still run the BCWSA if he was offered a job at Aqua, as rumored.
Jones said Aqua had offered to keep the BCWSA employees and he could be considered one of them, but he could also continue to run the water side of the BCWSA or retire. . “I don’t have a letter of intent with Aqua,” he said.
Patty Knight from Holland in Northampton told the board they faced ‘almost a moral dilemma for a very essential service… I hope the board is looking at what the cost-benefit is over a long period of time “.
When the BCWSA board of directors received the proposed sale offer last November, many residents wondered why they had heard about it in the past few months. A man said he just found out on Wednesday and suggested the BCWSA make an announcement with his bills and survey his customers about whether they should sell the sewage system.
Franklin and Marc Lucca, president of Aqua Pennsylvania, also listened carefully to the public’s comments. Franklin said they appreciate the questions and concerns, but “what’s most frustrating is the volume of misinformation. (It’s) scary,” he said.
The council also held a meeting Tuesday with city officials. Several municipalities in Bucks signed resolutions and formed a coalition to oppose the sale.
Bucks County Chief Operating Officer Margie McKevitt sat in the back of the room Wednesday, listening to comments from residents. She said the county government is awaiting responses to its questions to the BCWSA, due Monday, before commenting on the proposal.