BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Town of Orangetown will host a public hearing tonight (Thursday, May 22) on a request by United Water – Suez to increase its water rates for Rockland County customers.
The hearing will begin at 7 p.m. in the courtroom of the Town Hall at 26 Orangeburg Road, at the corner of Dutch Hill Road in Orangeburg, and is open to anyone interested.
The hearing is being conducted by New York State’s Public Service Commission, the agency to which UWR applied for permission to raise its rates by 8.08%.
The PSC says the hearing will begin with a panel of speakers who will explain how the rate surcharge will affect ratepayers, if approved, and the current status of the surcharge application.
To ensure that all public comment is formally entered into the commission’s record of the application request, a court reporter will record all comments, and the transcript will be submitted to the PSC for review.
Last June United Water New York, the local subsidiary of United Water Resources and United Water – Suez, filed an application with the state PSC for a $56.8 million surcharge or increase related to the firm’s proposed desalination plant it wants to build in the Hudson River off Haverstraw.
UWNY estimates that if the surcharge is approved, the average residential water bill would increase by 8.08%. The PSC approves the rates and surcharges that ratepayers pay for all utilities. A statement from the state agency notes that although the PSC will not hold a public hearing on the surcharge application designated 13-W-0246, it is now reviewing it and encourages public comment on the merits of the case, thus leading to tonight’s “informal” hearing.
UWNY estimates that the desalination plant, if approved and constructed, will cost the firm approximately $153 million, including the $56.8 million surcharge.
The surcharge represents costs incurred for the design and engineering of the pilot project and the proposed desalination plant. If built, the plant would intake brackish water from the Hudson at Haverstraw, treat and purify it, and pump it into its distribution system throughout Rockland County, providing its 300,000 residents with potable drinking water. Currently, the company supplies Rocklanders with water from its two reservoirs, Lake DeForest and Lake Tappan, and from several deep wells it has drilled throughout the county. The firm claims those sources are insufficient to meet the counties needs, however, leading to its plans to construct the “desal” plant as an additional supply source.
UWNY argues that instituting the surcharge now, before the plant is built, would be cheaper for ratepayers in the long run. The alternative, they say, would be to wait until the plant is built and operational to begin recovering the design, engineering, construction and finance costs. The company also warns that waiting will generate additional interest charges, which will also be paid by the ratepayers.
Opponents of the surcharge urge the PSC to disapprove the rate increase because there has been no determination yet on the need for the desalination plant. Further, they point out, UWNY has not yet secured the property for the plant to be built nor obtained any approvals or permits for its construction.
The opponents note that earlier this month UWNY submitted a revised cost estimate for the plant that increased by $20 million since last July.
In a flyer posted at Orangetown’s Town Hall last week, opponents of the rate increase also claim that the PSC has yet to even rule on the need for the proposed desalination plant, and that Rockland County “has sufficient water supply if it is properly managed.”
And finally, the opponents say, “another rate increase will further discourage businesses from expanding in or relocating to Rockland County.”
Information about tonight’s hearing can be obtained from Nadia Shapiro at the Orangetown Town Hall at 359-5100 ext. 2261.