New York State Public Service Commission Denies United Water Permission to Proceed with Desalination Plant, Impose Surcharge
BY CHERYL SLAVIN
At its public meeting on November 13 the New York State Public Service Commission passed several important orders that will directly impact United Water’s plans to build a desalination plant on the Haverstraw Bay as well as its request to impose a ratepayer surcharge for the as yet unbuilt project.
The PSC found that contrary to its original finding in 2005, the need for an increase in water supply for Rockland County was not as immediate or dire as was once believed. Accordingly, in its order on the matter, the PSC directed United Water to not pursue the desalination plant, and instead to work with the community to come up with alternative smaller scale solutions for increasing supply, as well as decrease demand through conservation, reducing leakage, improving repairs and upgrading equipment. The PSC also ruled that United Water was not imprudent in pursuing the desal plant as it had been following the commission’s direction almost 10 years ago.
The commission noted that the Rockland County Water Task Force has already been formed and has started work on coming up with solutions, and urged both sides to stop fighting and start working together to come up with a plan for the future which will keep the County’s water supply safe and plentiful.
All of the commissioners, as well as the reporting administrative judge, noted the intense and continuing outpouring of public opinion, input and interest throughout all of the proceedings, including the marathon public hearings which lasted well into the night last October.
The commission also ruled that at this time, with no construction started on the plant, United Water was not entitled to seek recovery of the desal plant’s pre-construction costs of about $50 million through a ratepayer surcharge. The PSC did rule that UW may pursue a surcharge of about $40 million at a later date if indeed the plant is ever built, or if its plans are permanently scrapped. The legal opposition to the surcharge was led by the Town of Ramapo and Rockland County.
The PSC’s investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds and/or negligent accounting methods within United Water is continuing. So far, however, the staff investigators do not anticipate that there will be any negative impact on the ratepayers as a result of any internal accounting improprieties.