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Residents prep for New York American Water fight

Public water advocates to address PSC, Liberty


New York American Water’s recent announcement that it plans to sell its New York operation to Liberty Utilities for $608 million has led North and South Shore activists to join forces in a campaign to bring public water to their communities.

Agatha Nadel, of Glen Head, director of North Shore Concerned Citizens, spoke to Claudia Borecky, of Merrick, a co-director of Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil, on Sunday. The groups agreed to work together, Nadel said, and will meet soon to discuss strategies.

“The ultimate goal has not changed — it’s to get public water for the area,” she said. “It’s just now the parameters have changed a little bit.”

One of their main goals, Nadel said, is to persuade the state Public Service Commission to stop the sale, which it must approve before it is finalized. This would make it more difficult for Liberty to take over NYAW’s water districts on the North Shore and in Lynbrook and Merrick, giving residents “a prime opportunity,” she said, to push for public water.

Nadel said she expected public hearings involving the PSC and Liberty to begin early next spring. She added that and she and Borecky would work to ensure that ratepayers attend the hearings so they can learn more about the situation and make their opinions known. Nadel and Borecky said they hoped that vocal activism would help halt the deal.

“Our main goal is to stop this private sale and push for a public acquisition” of the water districts, Borecky said.

George Pombar, a member of North Shore Concerned Citizens and president of the Glen Head-Glenwood Civic Council, said he agreed with the decision to work with LI CAWS. “If it gets us to a resolution, why not?” he said. “We’re both trying to get to the same goal.”

Pombar said he was troubled that Liberty was paying $608 million for control of the water districts. The company, he said, has come to make a profit, which will likely mean higher rates, and the North Shore Water District already has Long Island’s highest rates.

“The fight is not going to change. It’s just a different company,” Pombar said. “Once again, it shows how much money and how much profit is involved in all the sales . . . We’re frustrated to see that these companies are making so much money on our backs.”

Joe Lopes, of Sea Cliff, who has been a consultant to the utility industry for over 40 years, often shares his insights with NSCC. Lopes said he was not optimistic that the PSC would block the sale.

“They have to approve the sale, but I’m not sure they would do anything to stand in the way,” Lopes said. “It seems to me that the state and [Town of Oyster Bay] have to step in and say it’s not in the interest of the consumers in the area.”

Additionally, Lopes said he was concerned that Liberty lacks experience in providing water service on the East Coast. According to the company’s website, it now services communities in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Illinois, Missouri and Texas.

Nadel has said in the past that local and state officials could be the key to a public takeover of the water districts, a point she reiterated after last week’s meeting.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran, whose district encompasses the North Shore Water District, has been a consistently vocal proponent of public water. Nadel said that Sen. John Brooks has provided similar support on the South Shore.

“The bottom line is that we’re looking into every and any path to win this,” Nadel said. “Nothing is off the table. We need to see which path is going to be the winner. The politicians have the ultimate power, and they really have to help us now. They have to step up to the plate and help us get that public water.”