Bucks County Sewer Sale Rejected by Commissioners Because of Public Opposition

Aqua deal would have been largest ever sewer privatization scheme

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Clean Water

The hotly contested sewer privatization deal in Bucks County will not move forward, as County Commissioners announced their opposition to the proposal in advance of a meeting that was scheduled for tomorrow.

Aqua’s $1.1 billion proposal for the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (BCWSA) system would have been the largest sewer privatization deal in the history of the country.

Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority Board Chair John Cordisco issued a statement today that acknowledged the stiff opposition to the deal, saying that he had “informed the BCWSA board members that I do not support moving forward with the proposed offer.”

Aqua Pennsylvania submitted an unsolicited proposal in late 2020 and has since been attending Board meetings. The company’s bid to buy the county system sparked months of widespread community opposition. In July, the BCWSA announced an ‘exclusivity’ deal with the company. 

Local residents and community groups vehemently opposed the deal and a total lack of transparency and accountability throughout the negotiations. Hundreds of residents have demanded the Commissioners stop the sale.

“We are thankful to the Commissioners and to the Board of the Authority for coming to this decision,” said David McMahon, co-founder of Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts (NOPE). “We are grateful to all the residents, township officials, utility workers who devoted considerable time and effort in these past weeks to share the information, spread the word, and stand together in time to turn this sale back. It is important to recognize though, that our state legislators still have a role to play. They need to recognize the unintended consequences ‘fair market valuation’ has had in becoming the driving force behind these privatization efforts. We need to stop the passage of SB 597 in the General Assembly and we need to create legislation that facilitates the merging of municipal systems in public/public partnerships to help genuinely struggling systems meet the needs of their residents and customers.”

“I commend the Bucks County Commissioners and the BCWSA board for listening to their constituents and rejecting the Aqua bid, but we need to turn our attention to state lawmakers,” said Kofi Osei, a community organizer with NOPE. “Our public utility acquisition laws are still broken and there are currently communities fighting these corporate takeovers of public property. The way our utility code is written opens up the floodgates for potential corruption. We need to severely narrow the scope of when privatization is acceptable and give ratepayers a seat at the table with referendum.”

“I would like to thank our County Commissioners for their support in stopping the sale of our Local Water Authority,” said Tom Tosti, Middletown resident, former Township supervisor, and director of AFSCME District Council 88. “Privatizing is not the answer when it comes to public services as our communities get hurt by the sale of these services. We must stay vigilant though as it might be over for now, but we need our legislators in Harrisburg to help us in making sure this is not dead for now and it is a permanent message to say our Water Authority is not for sale. We need to put a stop to this for good as we as ratepayers deserve better.”

“On behalf of Region 1 Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, I would like to thank the Bucks County Commissioners and the Board of the BCWSA for listening to the members of their community and ensuring that these vital, life sustaining resources stay in the public trust,” said Mike Sullivan, PMAA Region 1 Director. “We recognize that there are challenges across our industry and we trust that BCWSA and other publicly owned systems will rise to the challenge to meet those needs and remain accountable to their customers. Additionally, our state legislators need to address the unintended consequences unleashed on Pennsylvania ratepayers by the Section 1329 [Act 12] acquisitions.”

 
“The rejection of Aqua’s purchase offer by BCSWA is good news for now,” said Margo Woodacre, Bill Ferguson, and Peter Mrozinski with KeepWaterAffordable. “But Aqua and other Big Water companies will not go away. BCSWA is too big a prize. In fact, because of Act 12, the state of Pennsylvania is open game for all corporate predators. We need action by the State Legislature now to provide long term protection for the ratepayers.” 

“This was a backroom corporate deal from the start, and it only stopped because local residents started to ask questions, voice their concerns, and hold their elected County Commissioners who have the power to change the BCWSA’s charter accountable,” said Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Getting the board to see the light and slam the brakes on this terrible deal is a huge win for clean water, public input and democracy itself.”