$1.1 Billion Deal Flushed Away

Gregory Vellner

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Sewer treatment plant facilities.Ivan Bandura

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -- Ending nearly two years of strenuous talks and firm ratepayer opposition, the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (BCWSA) has canceled the $1.1 billion sale of its sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Inc. a private utility company seen as likely to hike rates once it took ownership – a move that immediately was followed by the financing of $210 million to handle repairs.

The latter BCWSA action here will boost rates, said the board.

With talks over, the authority said it will raise needed funds through three bonds, the first of which will raise retail customer rates by 10 percent over the next three years, according to Benjamin Jones, BCWSA president and CEO. He added wholesale customers will see a 16 percent hike, but individual families who are their customers will see a 4 to 5 percent jump.

The bond money is needed to repair aging equipment and leaking sewer lines, according to Jones.

“They are critical to protect our environment and waterways,” he said.

The Neshaminy Interceptor pipe – a large pipe handling raw sewerage from the municipalities BCWSA serves in Lower Bucks County on its way to Philadelphia for treatment – needs to be replaced, said Jones.

While the bond financing was unexpected, the BCWSA unanimous vote to end the Aqua sale was no surprise. Public frustration and protests heightened since the sale was publically revealed this summer. The North Penn and North Wales water companies, suppliers of water to BCWSA, said that if Aqua took over the water system from BCWSA they’d drop out.

The Bucks County, Pa. commissioners also stepped away from endorsing the deal, a position that drew a response from BCWSA board chairman John Cordisco.

“We were never going to be in conflict with the commissioners’ position,” he said. “We understand the value of getting all the facts and understanding every detail on behalf of Bucks County’s residents.”

Cordiso said the commissioners’ input was vital in light of the heavy $1.1 billion sale price.

“We had a fiduciary responsibility to conduct our own examination and due diligence to determine what would be the best outcome for our customers, communities and employees. We appreciate the county commissioners’ reviewing the proposed offer from Aqua Pennsylvania.”

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As a professional journalist for several years -- reporter, editor, feature writer, columnist -- I handled a range of subjects. Breaking news, investigative series, government action, feature events, and staff feature writer with national entertainment magazine interviewing stars including Tom Selleck, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito. No matter the topic, certain ingredients are key: truth, facts, objectivity, balance.

Bucks County, PA
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