Climbing desal costs could mean further United Water rate increases, according to attorney

BY MICHAEL RICONDA 

NEW CITY – Rate-payers might be in for a costly surprise if United Water New York is allowed to increase rates in anticipation of their proposed desalination project, according to an attorney retained by the Town of Ramapo and a collection of other municipal bodies who spoke to the Rockland County Legislature’s Environmental Committee on Wednesday.

Daniel Duthie, who represents Ramapo in its proceedings against UWNY, explained cost estimates for first phase of the desalination project have more than doubled from $69 million to $153 million since its inception. At the latest estimate, UWNY has spent $56.8 million on pre-construction costs thus far, but no changes to the rate increases have been requested yet.

According to Duthie, however, Rockland’s water suply has been stabilized by existing fixes. Duthie explained Rockland is projected to see a water surplus from 2014 to 2017, leading to questions of whether the project is even necessary.

“We think that the record strongly indicates that there is no need for a new long-term water supply,” Duthie said.

UWNY is pursuing two separate rate hikes. The first is a 28.9 percent increase to the general rate, which would generate $20.4 million more in annual income to recoup costs from infrastructural improvements and maintenance. The second, which increases rates by 8.08 percent and generates $5.7 million annually, specifically targets desal pre-construction costs.

The rate hikes were announced weeks apart in the Summer of 2013, generating an instant backlash from consumers and public officials. Critics questioned how a surcharge could be levied on a project which is still in its planning phases and might not even see state approval.

Much of UWNY’s opposition has already organized for legal action. In 2013, the county joined a collection of towns, villages, sewer districts and school districts to form the Municipal Consortium. Duthie also represents the Consortium in the PSC’s general rate case.

The legislature seems equally skeptical. Leg. Alden Wolfe stated during the meeting that though he was normally opposed to hiring outside counsel, the county itself might be ready to retain Duthie to advocate against the rate hikes.

“I’ve come to appreciate the focus of Dan’s prcctice and the highly technical nature of it,” Wolfe said. “I think there’s a lot at stake.”

Stephen Powers with the County Executive’s Office confirmed Duthie’s retention is under consideration and a decision should be reached shortly.

The State’s Public Service Commission is expected to rule on the general rate case on June 30 and the surcharge case on July 28. No deadline has been set for a PSC decision on the project’s need.

Comments

  1. “Duthie explained Rockland is projected to see a water surplus from 2014 to 2017,”. Did anyone ask Duthie how he knows How much rain we are going to get in the next 3 years? Maybe he has one of those little globes that glow on his desk and he reads from it. We used to call them Chrystal Balls. He must have a set of them if he thinks anyone but our self serving politicians believe he can predict how much rain we are going to get in the next 3 years? Imagine putting thus on your job application and actually getting hired instead of getting sent to your shrink?

  2. When I moved to Rockland my taxes were $300 a month and my water bill was $30 a month. Now my water bill is $50 a month but my taxes are $1300 a month, a full $1000 a month higher or 50 times the increase In my water bill. Maybe we should have had the Executives at the Water Company running the Towns after all, who has the better track record? Water sustains life….politicians sustain politicians.

  3. We have short memories of what happens when political forces interfere with our infrastructure needs. Remember when we had cheap uninterrupted supply of electricity? ( See recent RCT article). Now we have disassembled electric plants, losses of tax revenue, both income and real estate taxes, tax certiorari proceedings almost bankrupting Towns, loss of good high paying jobs, all because of these self appointed political and enviro activists interfering with a perfectly good system. Now they want to do the same with your water company? Don’t let them. If you believe their promises of lowerrates …just compare your electric bill to the time before they interfered.

  4. The PSC proclaimed in 2006 and again in 2010 that Rockland County needed an additional source of water and MANDATED (read ORDERED) United Water to find a solution. United Water responded by building a DEC approved pilot plant that starts with standard treatment and filtering technologies found in water plants all over the world. This facility has used reverse osmosis to purify 40 million gallons of water. Independent certified labs have analyzed 10,000 water reviewed by the Dept. of Health and results were excellent. This was at a cost of over $50 million. During this period the PSC, Carlucci, Zebrowski, Vanderhoef and Schoenberger, all remained silent. Now 7 years and $50 -60 million later, they want a REVIEW their original PSC proclamation??. And they have the full support of the politicians responsible for bankrupting Rockland County, now $140 MILLION IN DEFICIT and the so called environmentalists who want to take control of your life. Do you trust Harriet Cornell, Schoenberger, Shirley Lasker and the bankrupting politicians to control the water supply for your kids and GRANDKIDS? This smells very bad. .

  5. I suppose fixing the leaks in the water system would reduce our need for a desalt plant. The water company should send teams out to fix running toilets, it may sound ridiculous, but that accounts for much of the wasted water.

    1. You may be correct about the leaks but the toilets are personal property, not the responsibility of the water company. Visiting all homes would be cost prohibitive and would cost more than it would save.

  6. Let’s see:
    CABLE: $200/MONTH
    CELL: $$175/MONTH
    ELECTRIC: $250/MONTH
    GAS/Oil: $500/MONTH

    WATER: $50/MONTH

    WE CAN LIVE WITHOUT ALL THOSE UTILITIES EXCEPT FOR WATER. DON’T KET THE POLITICIANS STEAL AWAY YOUR WATER COMPANY FOR THEIR PERSONAL PIGGY BANK.