Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Hempstead Appoints Members to Water Authority of Southeastern Nassau to Study Public Takeover of Aqua

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Councilwoman Angie Cullin and Councilman Gary Hudes announced that the Hempstead Town Board has appointed three individuals to serve on a reactivated Southeastern Nassau County Water Authority. The Authority, created through state legislation in 1991, is charged with studying the feasibility of a public takeover of a private water company. The Authority is also authorized to commence a takeover of Aqua New York, Inc. (Aqua) if its findings indicate such an action would be beneficial. The recommended members include Richard T. Ronan of Merrick, John Reinhardt of Merrick and John Molloy of Wantagh.

Under the New York Public Authorities Law, Hempstead and Oyster Bay Town Boards were authorized to appoint five members to the Authority (three members appointed by Hempstead and two by Oyster Bay). The communities that are served by Aqua are within the two towns. It is anticipated that Oyster Bay's town council will consider the appointment of Edward "Woody" Kennedy of Massapequa and Walter D'Amato of Massapequa at an upcoming town board meeting. Pursuant to the action of Oyster Bay officials, the complete authority can commence its study concerning the feasibility of a public takeover of Aqua.

Currently, residents of several south shore communities in Nassau County who are served by Aqua, a privately owned water company, pay among the highest water rates in the nation. Homeowners and businesses in surrounding communities served by the Town of Hempstead and independent commissioner-operated water districts in both towns pay a fraction of the rates charged by Aqua.

"Ratepayers served by Aqua are paying outrageous rates to a private water company," stated Murray. "The members that we have appointed to the board will aggressively research all of the issues associated with the cost of providing water to determine if a public takeover of Aqua can result in real savings."

"We've appointed people with top-notch credentials and a high level of expertise who are well equipped to research this issue," stated Hudes. "The fact that our appointees are Aqua ratepayers gives them a unique perspective and sincere motivation in their quest for true ratepayer relief," added Cullin.

The Authority, a public benefit corporation, is an independent governmental entity. Prior to this most recent initiative to reactivate the board, a group of duly appointed members of the Southeastern Nassau Water Authority studied the takeover issue. In fact, a July 27, 2007 Nassau Comptroller's report stated, "?the Water Authority voted to stop the public acquisition effort in 1997." Notwithstanding the actions of the previous board, Murray, Cullin and Hudes indicated that it's time to reexamine the matter.

"Although a previous water authority board decided not to pursue a public takeover, the ratepayers served by Aqua deserve an authority that will take a fresh look at the issue," stated Murray. "The economy has changed since the last takeover study and Aqua was recently granted a 12% rate increase over three years. The newly constituted water authority can take this updated information into account in reexamining the takeover option."

Murray, Cullin and Hudes stated that superior qualifications and experience were key factors in the selection of members of the authority. The officials observed that each person brings a unique set of talents and skills to the water authority.

John Reinhardt, Commissioner of Hempstead Town's Department of Water, is uniquely qualified and possesses a high level of expertise in water district management and operations. The Water Commissioner is responsible for six water districts, serving 115,000 residents. The department includes 31 wells and pumps 20 million gallons of water per day. A budget of over $16 million funds department operations, and 80 part-time and full-time staffers comprise an efficient and effective work force. Indeed, the Nassau Comptrollers Office recognized the cost effectiveness of John Reinhardt's water operations in a December 18, 2007 report when it stated, "three of the five least expensive water providers are town-run special districts in the Town of Hempstead."

Richard Ronan is a Professional Engineer and the outgoing Commissioner of the Town of Hempstead Department of Sanitation. He oversaw a staff of 572 and a $125 million budget. The department collects waste from 81,000 homes. Ronan was a driving force behind the closure of the former Merrick landfill and its conversion to the award-winning Norman J. Levy Nature Preserve. He was named Engineer of the Year by the Nassau County Chapter of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers. He was a Regional Director of the New York State Association of Solid Waste Management. The Commissioner is also the past president of the American Public Works Association, Long Island Branch. Ronan's department was cited as a cost effective operation by former Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman in a December 18, 2007 report.

John Molloy is a Professional Engineer and the Chairman, President and CEO of H2M, architectural, engineering and environmental consultants. The company includes 260 employees and Mr. Molloy has extensive experience in water supply system engineering, operations and water quality. As H2M's direct representative for the Hicksville and South Huntington Water Districts, serving 115,000 people, John Molloy is engaged in capital planning, engineering design, operations and cost analysis for both operations. John Molloy is active in the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation.

"I want to thank Councilwoman Angie Cullin and Councilman Gary Hudes along with the entire town board for approving superior individuals with the right skills to represent homeowners in the Aqua service area," concluded Murray. "I look forward to members of the Water Authority of Southeastern Nassau determining the most cost effective water service option for Aqua ratepayers."

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