This morning, the board of directors of the Bucks County Water & Sewer Authority (BCWSA) announced a year-long exclusivity deal with Aqua Pennsylvania to finalize the sale of the authority’s sewer system to the corporation. This comes after months of community opposition, and it follows months of private conversations between the BCWSA board and the corporation. The proposed $1.1 billion sale would be the largest sewer privatization in the United States.
Aqua Pennsylvania submitted an unsolicited proposal in late 2020 and has since been attending Board meetings. The BCWSA has rejected Food & Water Watch’s Right to Know request for a copy of that proposal or any information about its ongoing conversations with the corporation. According to a document submitted by BCWSA in response to an appeal of that denial, Aqua Pennsylvania has claimed that the proposal and all communication are confidential “without regard to time.”
“This backroom dealing is a recipe for disaster for the customers of the BCWSA,” said Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “The process was ripe for manipulation by private interests at the public expense. The Board has failed the public, who should have been informed and consulted before the Board started down the road to privatization. This major transaction would stick generations of Bucks County residents with higher utility bills. The Board must reject the deal.”
“When you put politics before the residents who would be affected by the increases privatization of services and the effects it has on their daily life brings, it’s a sad day for all of us who will have to live with this mistake,” said Tom Tosti, Director of District Council 88, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
“Yet again we see Aqua Pennsylvania continue its drive to be the regional water monopoly in our area and yet again we have a set of local officials who do not appear to understand the bigger and profound negative impacts from commodifying our water and wastewater systems,” said David McMahon, cofounder of Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE). “And so once again it is left to the ratepayers themselves to do the due diligence and show how these privatization efforts are simply not in the public interest.”
“We keep playing this game where consultants and public officials pretend that there is a magical benefit to privatizing water and wastewater systems but time and time again we are shown that the PA PUC is unable to protect ratepayers,” said Kofi Osei, a community organizer with NOPE. “Investor owned utilities consistently have double or triple rates of nearby systems owned and operated by municipal authorities. Section 27 of the PA constitution states that ‘ Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come’. Investors have no right to our constitutionally protected resources and Municipal Authorities, especially huge multi county ones like BCWSA, have no right to explore giving away our property.”
“This is disappointing but not surprising,” said Margo Woodacre with Keep Water Affordable. “We spoke at one of the suddenly-announced Buck’s County Sewer and Water Authority’s board meetings to warn the board of our experience with Aqua’s tactics of raising fees on the ratepayer. We were surprised to see Aqua’s leadership quietly present at that meeting. Although the board promised that this would be an ‘open process,’ this decision seems to have been made behind closed doors with no public input!”
Since last winter, community groups, workers and residents have attended Board meetings to express opposition to privatization of BCWSA. More than 300 Bucks County residents have signed petitions opposing the privatization.
The authority will not pursue the traditional competitive bidding process. It has engaged in exclusive conversations with Aqua Pennsylvania. The vote was made without advance public notice. The item was not included on the agenda. This has raised concerns that the anticompetitive nature of the transaction will result in higher costs for the public.