Mangano selects United Water to take over Nassau sewers


by John Callegari, LIBN
May 3, 2012

Calling it a way to protect taxpayers and the county's waterways, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano unveiled his plan for one of the largest sewer system privatization deals in the nation's history. 

Mangano selected New Jersey-based United Water to take over the long-term operation and maintenance of the county's failing sewer authority. 

The deal would be worth at least $750 million that Mangano has said would go toward reducing off the county's $3 billion long term debt. 

Nassau's three sewage treatment plants, including Cedar Creek and Bay Park sewage, have been operating with outdated equipment for several years, leading to sewage being illegally discharged into the county's bays. The sewer authority has been hit with thousands of dollars of DEC fines as a result. In addition, Nassau Interim Finance Authority officials have said the sewer authority would go broke by 2014 if nothing was done, and significant tax hikes would be needed. 

We're advancing solutions now to avoid a crisis in 2014, Mangano said. And now is the time to pay down a substantial amount of the county's debt to get it off the backs of our children. 

Under the agreement, United Water would be responsible for making the improvements to the sewage treatment plants, while also maintaining the new equipment over the long term. In addition, Mangano said United Water would freeze rates through 2015, with increases beyond that not allowed to exceed the consumer price index. 

Sewer taxes would also still be collected through the county's tax bill, Mangano said, noting that nothing would change on a resident's tax bill. And county employees would not lose their jobs, either being offered work with the new operator or other positions within the county. 

But not everyone was convinced Mangano's sewer deal would be the life boat taxpayers are looking for. 

Mangano's sewer proposal is a Hail Mary pass designed to provide a short term budget fix to address the long term fiscal mismanagement that has occurred on his watch, said Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams, D-Hempstead. The foreign operator he has selected to run our sewers has a track record of rate hikes and serious environmental damage in other areas where they operate in the U.S. This is a disastrous decision by Ed Mangano to bail himself out on the backs of Nassau taxpayers who depend on reliable and affordable sewer service. 

But Mangano defended the deal, claiming it was not a one-shot, providing recurring savings to the county from not having to operate the system or pay for costly upgrades. 

Mangano also noted that NIFA officials, who have been critical about Mangano's sewer privatization quest, have yet to see the plan he will submit it to the board after the public comment period. 

Public hearings on the deal will take place at 6 p.m. May 9 at the Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Plant, May 16 at the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant and on May 17 at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building. 

This is the hearing stage, Mangano said. We have yet to make the final recommendation to NIFA and the Legislature. 

Prior to the announcement, environmentalists from the Washington D.C.-based Food and Water Watch handed out pamphlets criticizing privatization of water systems and United Water. 

United Water has delivered a host of problems from contaminated drinking water in Gloucester, Mass., to sewage spills in Milwaukee, Wisc., the report said. These disappointing results reflect not only on United Water, but also on the private water services industry as a whole. 

Mangano said United Water was one of four respondents to a county-issued RFP that county officials reviewed for a possible public-private partnership. The company is one of the country's largest water services company, and is a subsidiary of Paris-based Suez Environment, a global water and waste treatment company. 

United Water could not be reached for comment prior to the publication of this report.

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