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Feasibility study: Public water would be cheaper on the North Shore

Ratepayers excited by study results

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Results of a study commissioned by the Village of Sea Cliff to examine whether switching from private to public water are in, and the study concluded that municipal water would be cheaper for Sea Cliff Water District residents than sticking with the current private provider, New York American Water.

Ratepayers would save $430 to $492 a year if water were provided by a public entity.

Sale of NYAW’s Sea Cliff assets to Liberty Utilities is pending, and NYAW President Lynda DiMenna said she believed the sale to Liberty would be the best option for ratepayers.

“New York American Water is still evaluating the filing,” DiMenna said. “We believe a transaction with Liberty Utilities is in the best interest of our customers. The fastest way to achieving more affordable water service for New York American Water customers is to address the special franchise tax that is unfairly levied on our customers, which makes up a significant portion of our North Shore customers’ bills.”

Sea Cliff hired Walden Environmental Engineering last April to conduct the study, which was funded by State Senate grants. In 2018, then Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican who represented the 5th District, secured an $80,000 state grant to conduct the study. In 2019, his successor, Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, secured an additional $75,000 grant.

Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy said the state Public Service Commission asked any entities interested in purchasing NYAW’s Long Island districts, which also include Lynbrook and Merrick in Nassau County, to submit proposals on how they would do so.

After Walden valued the Sea Cliff Water District’s infrastructure based on the market, resident income and district assets, Kennedy said the purchase of all assets should not exceed $20 million. This, he said, was unsurprising.

“It’s a reasonable number that we certainly could afford and provide rate relief as high as 50 percent to all ratepayers,” Kennedy said. “There were no real surprises. The more we dug in, the better the news was getting.”

Kennedy said ratepayers could pay for the purchase by floating a 30-year bond. This, he said, could help them save more money. Residents in the district, which includes all of Sea Cliff and Glen Head, as well as areas of Glenwood Landing, Glen Cove, Roslyn Harbor and Old Brookville, currently pay more for water than any other ratepayers in Nassau.

Glen Head resident Agatha Nadel is director of the public water advocacy group North Shore Concerned Citizens. She said she believed the study would show that municipal water would be less expensive.

“I’ve been on eggshells for months waiting for the results of this, and I’m simply over the moon and I don’t want to come back to Earth,” Nadel said. “The positive study confirms what every member of our group was hoping for, and we’re just one step closer to that dream of public water becoming a reality.”

The district’s state government representatives, including Gaughran and State Assemblymen Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, and Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, have been vocal supporters of public water. On July 23, a bill establishing the public North Shore Water District, authored by Gaughran, passed the State Senate.

A companion bill was presented to the Assembly by Lavine around the same time, although it did not pass by the end of 2020. New bills will be presented to the Senate and Assembly this year, and if they were to pass and were then signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, an authority could be established by April, Kennedy said.

Additionally, Cuomo announced legislation on Oct. 28 calling on the state to examine the feasibility of a public takeover of NYAW’s infrastructure across Nassau. The bill, if passed, would require a study by the state Public Service Commission to be conducted by April 1.

Gaughran said he was pleased with the results of the study, as water is a basic necessity of human life that should not come at such high rates. He said the next step would be to create the North Shore Water Authority so there was a legal entity in place to move away from private water.

“We’re still looking at and analyzing the information ourselves, but it’s a strong pathway toward independence and freedom for the folks I represent that have American Water,” Gaughran said. “It’s really just giving them what most people have on Long Island, which is municipal water at lower rates.”

“For the entire community,” Nadel said, “it’s just a real big dose of good news, and I think in 2021 to start the new year, everyone can use a bit of that.”