In an article on February 28, 2016 in the Journal News – ‘Rockland water bills could rise $8 a month under request‘ – we learn that our local water company, Suez/United Water wants to recoup $54M for failed desalination plan. Water bills for most Rockland customers would rise by $8.17 a month under a request submitted by Suez Water New York.
Charles Clewsow, a 38 year resident of Clarkstown and a retired executive from the financial services industry, provided a commentary about the proposed water rate increase to the Editors of Rockland Voice which appeared on February 29, 2016. This additional commentary follows from that article
To: The Editor Rockland Voice
I read with interest some of the comments on my last contribution in the Rockland Voice, the Journal News and Facebook and frankly some really surprise me. It might indicate a lack of understanding or perhaps some spinning of facts by those who have an agenda. Strangely, many appear to support the Agenda of two individuals most responsible for tanking Desal. Namely, Harriet Cornell who leads the Rockland Legislature Water Commission and Christopher St. Lawrence, the main driver behind the Rockland Water Coalition and the Rockland County Sewer District, who allegedly dolled out illegal salaries to local politicians.
Both of these individuals use their respective organizations as power bases and are probably more responsible for the decline in the quality of life in Rockland County than any other two citizens. They are also behind most of the vicious attacks on Suez and both convinced the PSC (Public Service Commission) to reverse course on Desal but only AFTER over $50 million was spent. Keep in mind that the Desal Pilot Project was successful and heavily monitored by the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation).
It is mind boggling that some folks seem to support Cornell and CSL who have delivered nothing but angst to taxpayers, rather than Suez, their local water company, that delivers pure, clean, water to the residents of our County. Suez also pays a huge amount of income, real estate and franchise taxes and employs hundreds in good paying, many Union, jobs. Many of their employees own homes here, shop here, pay real estate and sales taxes. BTW where has this in house Union been while Suez, the firm that pays these Union Members, is being attacked?
One commenter even suggested that the County take over the water company because they are French? Since when are the French people taboo in Rockland? Perhaps their logic is because the American politicians in the County had such great success running the County, the Hospital and the Sewer District? No thought given as to who would pay all those taxes Suez is paying. Instead of reducing government as Ed Day is doing, we would be expanding it. No matter, he seems to be saying, “we don’t want no stinking French owned company in Rockland!” Appalling and insulting to all our residents especially our French residents.
Let’s just review the hard facts, down and dirty.
FACT..PSC ordered Suez to come up with a secondary source of water.
FACT..Suez made a business decision and chose Desal.
FACT..PSC and DEC approved this decision.
FACT..Pilot Plant was built successfully filtering water from the Hudson.
FACT..Filtering Process was monitored by the DEC. Concerns by some as to being close to a nuclear facility, existence of PCB’s etc. were erased when the Pilot Plant produced hundreds of thousands of gallons of purified water.
FACT..Harriet Cornell, Chris St Lawrence and their cronies lobbied the PSC who reversed their decision AFTER $50 Million was spent.
Please tell me how, after reading these facts, anyone else besides the PSC, Harriet Cornell and Chris St. Lawrence is responsible for the loss of $50 million? Yet some still do place the blame at the feet of Suez. Simply mind boggling!
We have to ask ourselves why Cornell and St. Lawrence would go to such great lengths to stop a project that was already PSC sanctioned knowing that it would cost ratepayers $50 Million?
Answers may lie in the fact that we are dealing with politicians who tend to serve themselves rather than their constituents.. Their actions during all their time in government would seem to bear this out.
When Legislator Cornell lost her power as Chair of the County Legislature, she latched onto environmental issues in her County Legislative position to build a different power base. Attacking the water company fit the bill particularly since Suez is more interested in running a business and delivering pure water to our homes then they are in getting into squabbles with politicians like Cornell and St. Lawrence.
My opinion is that Suez’s professional, laid-back, polite style does not serve them well. They simply do not fight back, at least, not publicly, hence the position some take on Suez. Harriet would not dare attack O & R, Verizon or Cablevision with the same zest even though those bills are at least 3 times as large as our water bills.
Cornell has managed to continue her attacks on Suez while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for new hires and ‘hit-women’ reports on Suez operations which were proven to be totally inaccurate and rejected by the PSC. Some of this money was even squeezed out of Suez. Reportedly, she has also put people on her payroll in the legislature when the County is streamlining and cutting back. Her power base is expanding at the expense of taxpayers and indeed the reputation if Suez. All of this is done without any outside scrutiny by the press. Who are these people on her payroll, what are their functions and how much are they being paid? What do they do on a daily basis?
St. Lawrence on the other hand has a completely different motive, in my opinion, now that Desal is history there are only a few ways to produce an adequate supply of water. Conservation and fixing leaks are just not enough. We depend primarily on rainfall and if we do not get enough, we will be in big trouble. Drought periods are inevitable in our history. We can hope and dream that some of these rain forecasts are correct. If not, all hell could break loose.
Here is where St Lawrence comes in. Just a theory at this point but there is enough meat for this theory to have some substance. Fact is that because of Cornell and St. Lawrence, Desal is no longer viable as a longer term solution for our water supply. It will be replaced by Sustainable Development. There are different definitions of Sustainable Development but in the case of water for Rockland County, it could be polite way of saying that Chris St. Lawrence, who essentially controls wastewater operations for Rockland County, is about sell us the used wastewater and contents from flushed toilet bowls back to us at substantial profit, after he “filters” it. Of course, he will make the case that it is properly filtered but this is coming from the man whose Sewer District polluted the Saddle River for years and years and was fined close to a million dollars. Add to this to the fact that the expensive technology is not yet in place so we better hope and pray for a lot of rain before any drought comes. If this theory proves to be accurate, you can now see why CSL and the Rockland Water Coalition came out so strongly against Desalinization. If I were a cynical type I might suggest that it had more to do with increasing a power base and a profit motive than it had to do with sustaining and protecting our environment.
Bottom line is that Suez will be reimbursed for the Pilot Plant, properly so. They will still earn profits from selling your toilet bowl water it buys from St. Lawrence back to you. The Rockland County Wastewater operations will reap a windfall which will be untaxed since they are part of the government and instead of drinking water from the Hudson approved by the the DEC, we (you not me) will be drinking recycled toilet water. The St. Lawrence power base will be stronger than ever.
Those folks who attacked Desal tying it into limiting overdevelopment will be sadly disappointed as the supply of toilet bowl water will replace the water from Desal but instead of the profits going to Suez to limit price increases which have to be approved by the PSC, the Wastewater operations have no such restrictions.
Remember the first choice given to us by Suez was Desal but residents apparently hated the water company so much that they we allowed ourselves to be hoodwinked by the two most untrustworthy politicians in the County. And it cost us $50 million to boot.
It’s a great country, if you appreciate getting the brown end of the stick.