As the fight for public, municipal water rages on, residents of Sea Cliff and Glen Head have formed a group to represent the community in its battle against New York American Water.
The initial mission of North Shore Concerned Citizens is to remove NYAW as the community’s water provider and replace it with a public water supplier.
Last May, the state Public Service Commission approved a $3.6 million rate increase requested by the company. As a result, annual bills for residential customers on the North Shore jumped to an average of $821.82, from $587.23 — an increase of more than $200 a year.
The increase was mostly due to higher local property taxes assessed to the utility — roughly $4.2 million — that were then passed directly on to the 4,500 homes that NYAW serves in Sea Cliff and Glen Head.
North Shore Concerned Citizens members plan to develop alternatives to the private company and ensure that residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water. Once the water issue is resolved, the group will consider addressing other concerns affecting the community.
NSCC met on April 17 to discuss ousting NYAW, and according to Chairman George Pombar, of Glen Head, the group is gaining momentum. Its legal committee is looking for a firm to undertake a class-action lawsuit with the objective of refunding residents who were overcharged on their water bills.
“In an effort to identify opportunities to reduce the cost of its service to customers, New York American Water undertook a comprehensive property tax review,” NYAW President Carmen Tierno said in a recent statement. “During this review, it was determined that a number of New York American Water utility properties were over-assessed due to an asset inventory filing that required correction by the company. This over-assessment began to impact customer bills over a two-month period, in November and December 2017.”
The state Department of Public Service is currently investigating the company’s failure to disclose accurate property-value assessments.
“The forthcoming reports and reviews from the investigation will prove if these mistakes were intentional or criminal,” said Concerned Citizens member Joe Lopes. “If they filed false information, it can put us in a very different light.”
The group’s legal committee has also considered forming a water authority to assume local control of the district’s pipes and water towers in the event that the state moves to condemn NYAW. Agatha Nadel, of Glen Head, said that while the water authority would own those assets, it would have to subcontract a neighboring water district, such as Jericho or Roslyn, to manage them.
A similar situation occurred in Great Neck in 1985, when then State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli introduced legislation to create the Water Authority of Great Neck North. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Mario Cuomo.
“Our community has to put pressure on our state legislators to get a similar law passed, in addition to money for a feasibility study,” Nadel said. “The next few months are critical.”
With the demand for water set to skyrocket as the warmer months approach, so may the fear of more rate increases from NYAW.
“We’ve seen the extent of our successes with the legislation, the investigation and the reassessments, but we shouldn’t be fooled by that,” said Glen Head resident Larry Ruisi. “We don’t want to be complacent.”
Ruisi acknowledged that meetings of the Concerned Citizens have yielded “more discussion than discovery,” and that an action plan should be defined sooner rather than later. “We need a flowchart outlining the anatomy of the initiative, so people know what’s going on,” he said.
NSCC’s first town hall is slated for June 13, at 7 p.m., in the North Shore High School auditorium.