More than 100 residents of Sea Cliff, Glen Head and surrounding areas focused on options to oust New York American Water from the community at an Aug. 28 town hall at North Shore High School. At the same time, many attendees complained about their disproportionately high water bills.
According to a recent report by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, residents of the North Shore Water District — which includes Sea Cliff, Glen Head, Glenwood Landing and parts of Glen Cove, Roslyn Harbor and Old Brookville — pay more for water than any other district on Long Island. This is largely due to NYAW’s privatization of the area’s water, which was the main focus of residents’ ire at the meeting.
Among the panelists were Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman, Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy, State Sen. Jim Gaughran and Glen Head resident Agatha Nadel, who heads North Shore Concerned Citizens, a group of volunteers fighting NYAW.
Nadel described NYAW’s high prices as “legalized crime,” saying, “They are not the good stewards they want you to believe. Their philosophy is very simple — to extract the maximum profit to the detriment of their customers and systems.”
Kennedy said that residents of the North Shore Water District saw their rates spike about two years ago, when NYAW raised them to pay for new property tax assessments. However, he noted, “The water company not only gets back their property tax cost from ratepayers, but also earns a profit on every dollar.”
The village filed a lawsuit against NYAW in September 2017 in response to what it termed “unreasonable” rate increases for Sea Cliff residents. In April 2018, the state Public Service Commission found that NYAW’s “erroneous tax calculations” had resulted in an overpayment of $2.3 million over the previous four years. Sea Cliff ratepayers were overcharged by $282,000, or $65.50 per customer, according to the report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo eventually stepped in, insisting that NYAW correct its mistakes and compensate ratepayers for their overpayments.
North Shore Concerned Citizens, Kennedy said, has sent out a request for proposals to engineering firms to develop a feasibility study to determine whether joining another district or forming a new water authority is possible. He said that then State Sen. Carl Marcellino secured a $80,000 grant for the study in 2018, and more recently, Gaughran provided $75,000 in state money.
Gaughran has been vocal about the need to remove NYAW from its current districts, which include not only those on the North Shore, but also Merrick and Lynbrook on the South Shore, among other communities. He said he had co-sponsored a bill that would impose a fine of up to $250,000 on utilities that knowingly lie to government agencies, resulting in rate increases. He also supports a bill in the State Senate and Assembly that would exempt residents from paying special franchise taxes to private utilities.
“These are steps that are being taken,” Gaughran said, “but ultimately I believe what we have to do is go to public water.”
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said people should address their concerns to Cuomo and state Attorney General Letitia James. Esposito encouraged residents to come together and ask state officials to fight for them.
“Your voice matters,” she said. “You have to use it the right way and put your voices back into the ears of elected officials, not only the good ones . . . You’ve got to be heard.”
Resident Scott Emerich said he was disappointed to see that Cuomo was not at the town hall, because, Emerich said, the settlement that the governor helped broker did not provide adequate fiscal relief for ratepayers. He said that if the state did not offer further help, ratepayers would “start taking bigger actions.”
“I don’t see anything getting done,” Emerich said. “I appreciate the effort that’s going forward. I see some little bits and pieces of information coming back to us. It ain’t happening, and we’re not gonna wait much longer.”
Several speakers said the feasibility study would provide information on how the community could move forward with removing NYAW. Kennedy said he hoped the study would be completed within six months after an engineering firm was hired to do the job.
Nadel said that she and other residents would do all they could to move to public water, and that she believed the community would win in the end.
James Versocki, a Sea Cliff resident and a member of North Shore Concerned Citizens, said campaigns such as this are all about grass-roots organizing. An attorney, he said he would draft legal documents to advance the cause, and community members could provide comments along the way.
“As long as we speak as a voice,” Versocki said, “and as long as we don’t fight against each other and we realize that we as a community want this, we’ll get it.”