BY MICHAEL RICONDA
County Legislator Harriet Cornell has once again sounded alarms on United Water New York’s proposed desalination plant in Haverstraw, specifically targeting what she says are vague and non-transparent financial projections.
Cornell issued a request to the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to deny UWNY’s planned rate hike of $56.8 million to make up losses from pre-construction work on the plant.
According to Cornell, UWNY has released almost no details on the cost of the plant. She pointed to the inclusion of only two pages’ worth of cost information in the company’s 775 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement as evidence that the public has been kept in the dark.
“UWNY has not to date provided a budget nor essentially any detail on the proposed capital costs for the desalination plant,” Cornell wrote in the letter.
Cornell also cited a report by economic consultants with ECONorthwest which blasted UWNY for failing to include information on the price of some basic expenses which could be used to generate an overall estimate. UWNY stated in its DEIS report that the project could cost anywhere from $139 to $198 million.
“It is incredible that the standard cost categories for a capital project are not shown: architecture and engineering costs, land acquisition, approvals, geotechnical testing, legal fees, interest, construction, overhead and profit, and contingency,” Cornell wrote.
United Water is no stranger to controversey with the proposed plant, which has been criticized for possible environmental damage, the potential production of questionable drinking water and the shouldering of costs on ratepayers. UWNY has also faced condemnation for proposing a rate hike before the plant had even received approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the PSC.
Cornell is one among many legislators who have come out in opposition to the plant. In the summer of 2013, the legislature as a whole voted for the county to join the Municipal Consortium, an organization of towns, villages and nonprofits opposed to the project.
United Water responded to Cornell’s claims by reiterating that it was pursuing all necessary governmental reviews. According to United Water Director of Communications Deb Rizzi, the company’s cost studies were comprehensive enough to warrant PSC approval.
“The proposed surcharge is to recover United Water’s investment related to developing a new long term water supply,” Rizzi stated. “These pre-construction development costs are well documented and include the selection process, preliminary design, engineering, permitting, pilot plant testing and the extensive legal approval process.”