Two new water authorities will be established in Nassau after Hochul signs legislation

Robert Pelaez

Nassau County will have two new public water authorities as a result of legislation signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Nov. 3.

The signing of the bills came after the state’s Department of Public Service released a joint settlement proposal that featured a tentative $607 million purchase of New York American Water, one of New York’s only private water supply companies, by the Merrick-based Liberty Utilities Co. 

The proposed purchase remains under review by the state’s Department of Public Service, officials said, with no official date on when a decision will be made.

The two bills signed by Hochul establish the North and South Shore Water Authorities, which will be run by locally appointed boards. The state Legislature, earlier this year, passed bills to provide $1 million in funding for the new authorities in efforts to shift the responsibility for water supply  to municipalities.

On the North Shore, New York American Water covers the Glen Head and Sea Cliff areas in addition to East Rockaway, Roosevelt, Bellmore and parts of Merrick on the South Shore. American Water has about 124,000 customers systemwide, including about 120,000 customers on Long Island.

Hochul touted the importance of residents throughout the state being able to have “easy, affordable access to” water in a statement.

“The historically high rates charged by New York American Water could be reduced through a public takeover of the system, and these new public water authorities give the local governments the legal vehicle they need to pursue the public option,” Hochul said.

According to the proposed settlement, Liberty will pay a $23.5 million “public benefit adjustment” that will provide rate relief for up to 10 percent of customers and will require the company to “engage meaningfully” with the newly established water authorities in the event they want to purchase parts of New York American Water’s service areas in Nassau County. 

The authorities would have up to 465 days from Liberty’s $607 million purchase to complete any buyouts, according to the settlement. Liberty is also committed to not filing for a rate hike until 2023, which would delay any potential increases to 2024.

New York American Water President Lynda DiMenna said in a statement, “New York American Water continues to focus on advancing the transaction between our company and Liberty Utilities, as it is in the best interest of our customers.”

The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), who said he was “grateful to the governor for giving the people of this part of the North Shore of Long Island self-determination.”

Other local officials and ratepayers have expressed their displeasure with New York American Water, citing high prices and lack of service.

Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square) praised Hochul for signing the bills to provide Nassau residents with more affordable rates and increased access to public water.

“By making our water public our North Shore communities will have reliable access to water that’s safe and affordable for all residents,” Ra said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “I would like to thank my colleagues, Assemblyman Montesano, Assemblyman Lavine and Sen. Gaughran, for coming together on this bill, and thank the governor for signing it. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel for New York American Water customers.”

County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said the legislation and establishment of the two new water authorities is another “important step closer to public water” for thousands of ratepayers.

“For years, New York American Water has overcharged, underserved, and taken advantage of its ratepayers,” she said in a letter. “They have prioritized their own bottom line over delivering an essential, life-sustaining public utility in an affordable and responsible manner.”

The signing of legislation by Hochul comes after a year of efforts under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to shift New York American Water’s service areas in Nassau to municipal service. A monthlong study was conducted earlier this year which determined municipalization of New York American Water was both feasible and, under several scenarios, in the public interest.

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