Bucks County Sewage System Potential Sale Topic of Public Meetings

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. – The Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority will hold two open houses on Tuesday, July 26 to hear what the public has to say about the potential sale of its sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania in the in what would be the largest such transaction. in the history of the state.

The first “public open house” will be held Tuesday, July 26 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Bucks County Community College’s Perkasie Campus (Great Room located in the North Building) at One Hillendale Rd., Perkasie, Pennsylvania 18944

The second open house is scheduled for Tuesday, July 26 from 5-7 p.m. at Bucks County Community College – Newtown Campus (Gallagher Room at Rollins Center), 275 Swamp Road, Newtown, Pennsylvania 18940. Use the parking lot near the west entrance.

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On July 13, the authority voted to begin exclusive talks to sell its sewerage system to Aqua Pennsylvania for $1.1 billion and to formally seek public comment on the proposal.

Aqua Pennsylvania submitted an unsolicited proposal in late 2020 to acquire the system. To date, this document has not been made public.

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“BCWSA received an initial takeover offer and the authority had a fiduciary responsibility to consider every detail and determine the most beneficial decision for all concerned,” wrote board chairman John Cordisco, in a letter to taxpayers. “This analysis ensured that customers would receive rate protections, that municipalities and their ratepayers would realize financial benefits, that programs would remain in place to achieve the highest environmental standards, and that no salary or benefits for current employees and elders would be negatively impacted.”

After receiving the initial offer and conducting an analysis, the BCWSA says on its website that it took a procedural step to begin negotiations with Aqua Pennsylvania, which triggered a series of public meetings about the proposed sale.

“There is no decision to sell until we hear from the public,” the authority said.

While the authority talks about transparency, allegations of behind-the-scenes deals have surfaced, fueled by the fact that the vote to enter into exclusive year-long talks with Aqua and formally seek public comment never figured on the table. authority agenda on July 13, which is required under the state’s Sunshine law.

By law, the agenda must include a list of every business of the agency that will or may be the subject of formal deliberation or action. The law also prohibits an agency from taking formal action on an agency business matter at a public meeting, if the matter is not included on the meeting agenda that has been posted. and distributed for the meeting in question.

The law states that matters can be added to the agenda by a majority of the agency’s governing body through an amendment to the agenda to include the supplementary item. The reasons for changing the agenda must, however, be announced at the meeting and the changed agenda must be posted on the agency’s website and at the agency’s main office no later than the first day. open after the meeting.

As of July 17, the agenda had not been updated in accordance with the Sunshine Act.

An email sent to the authority by Patch was never returned or even acknowledged.

On its website, the authority said that any decision to sell the sewer system must meet the following criteria: provide protection for ratepayers over the next 10 years; provide $1 billion in revenue to the county and its ratepayers; provide the highest level of environmental regulation; ensure job security for all employees; and public transparency.

If a sale is approved, after paying off debt associated with its operations, the authority said Bucks County would receive approximately $1 billion in proceeds from the sale, which it would use to eliminate all debt from the county, establish a fund for customers to stabilize sewer rates over the next decade, cover future tax increases, and fund essential services as needed.

While BCWSA plans to sell its sewer system, it would continue to own and provide water service.

Reflecting on its thinking, the BCWSA says it anticipates infrastructure challenges in the future that will require a significant financial commitment to sustain improvements for all customers.

“Communities in our footprint are served by an aging sewer system that requires ongoing repairs and upgrades. A private entity like Aqua Pennsylvania can manage infrastructure needs more effectively and efficiently because it can distribute the costs and work on a larger system,” he says.

“Additionally, many of our customers have already experienced the costly headache of aging laterals that have failed and damaged their properties. Aqua Pennsylvania will also seek PUC’s approval to replace water laterals. damaged sewage from customers in order to deal with the influx of storm water, which is something the BCWSA is not permitted to do.”

Along with a one-year rate freeze, the authority said the county could create a customer benefit fund, which would be used to allow only minimal rate increases over the next 10 years.

“Selling the sewer operation alone means significantly lower rate increases,” the authority said. “Low-income residents will continue to have access to grant or rebate programs to help pay their bills.”

If the acquisition goes through, all BCWSA employees would retain their jobs under existing labor agreements. All pension plans would also remain intact, and employees and their families would retain their current health, vision and dental care plans. Post-retirement health benefits would also be provided to current and former employees.

Aqua Pennsylvania would also assume all permits necessary to operate the systems and assume all consents and orders from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) related to systems. The company would also have the ability to handle the growing stormwater problem and it would be able to replace customer diversions. »

Since last winter, community groups, workers and residents have attended board meetings to voice their opposition to BCWSA’s privatization. More than 300 Bucks County residents have signed petitions opposing the privatization. And this week, the authority’s municipal partners began to weigh in, agreeing to send a letter to the authority asking to keep them updated.

The Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority is one of the largest water and sewer authorities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, providing water and sewer services to more than 100,000 households, business accounts and some 525,000 people in the southeastern area of ​​Pennsylvania.

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Jessica C. Bell