Readers Write: Whose side is Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton on?

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I read with interest and curiosity the “letter” authored by Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton regarding New York American Water’s proposal to build a filtration system next to the railroad tracks in Glen Head. I believe some clarification is in order.

The Sea Cliff-Glen Head-Glenwood Landing area has been subject to private profit mongering New York American Water since 2012 when that company bought the assets of another private company, Aqua.

The area covered has had private water since the late 19th century because there had been no political will or interest in municipalizing the district. Unlike the Great Neck peninsula in the 1990s and the City of New York, local politicians have turned a blind eye to their constituents’ interests in obtaining affordable public water.

That changed slightly when on August 9, 2017 (3+ years ago), the “civic group” to which the Legislator refers held a meeting at the North Shore Middle School attended by approximately 400 ratepayers, all the local politicians and by the President of NYAW wherein the community aired its grievances about the rates and service. From that meeting, another “civic” group, “North Shore Concerned Citizens”  was created. Both the local civic association and NSCC are composed of VOLUNTEERS devoting their time and energy to the cause of this community WITHOUT PAY.

In 2019 and again in 2020, Sen. Jim Gaughran sponsored and got passed (almost unanimously) in the Senate a bill forming a North Shore Water Authority, to allow a public corporation to buy out the assets of NYAW and operate the water service. That is and always has been the goal of both groups. A similar bill was introduced in the State Assembly both years and never got out of committee, despite support from our 3 local Assemblymen.

Earlier this year, after being caught lying to the Public Service Commission in 2016, investigations by the Nassau County District Attorney, New York State Attorney General, U.S. Government Accountability Office and reams of bad publicity from Newsday and the local newspapers and radio stations, NYAW submitted a petition to the NYS Public Service Commission to sell its assets to another private water monopoly – Liberty Utilities, a Canadian company that has virtually no presence in the eastern United States. Again, the “civic group” and NSCC have been fighting this sale with the goal of stopping it and forcing a sale of the assets to a municipal entity like the ones that provide water to 90% of Nassau County.

Thanks to the community pressure, the PSC is asking for proposals from local municipalities and public water districts to take over parts of the NYAW system. The deadline for the municipalities and water districts to submit interest in this proposal was just extended from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31. The only local governmental entity that has been involved in this fight (other than the State legislature) is the Village of Sea Cliff. To appear and speak at these hearings, an entity must file a formal “Party Status Request.”

Such requests have been filed by the Village of Sea Cliff, NSCC and the Glen Head-Glenwood Landing Civic Council. Other municipalities, including the upstate Town of Ulster and Massapequa Water District, have filed Requests. Another VOLUNTEER group, L.I. CAWS, based on the south shore, has filed a Request.

The Town of Hempstead has commissioned a feasibility study (which the Town has paid for) as has the Village of Sea Cliff (paid for by state grants) and the Massapequa Water District (paid by the District). Notably absent from these proceedings are the Nassau County Legislature and the Town Board of Oyster Bay, both of which have been asked to join in the fight and have failed to do so.

Legislator DeRiggi’s article focuses on a $1,000,000 building. As she points out, with 4500 ratepayers, that amounts to a one-time payment of $200 per ratepayer. Not that this is a minimal charge but approximately one year ago, NYAW AGREED IN WRITING to build a new Glen Head Water Tower for $3.2 million.

When it was built, they said that the cost is $6.4 million!! That will cost the ratepayers $600, three times the amount. When the “civic group” and NSCC openly complained about this to the Legislator and other elected officials, nothing was done.

The complaint about the $200 is relatively minor compared to the cost paid EVERY MONTH (NOT QUARTER) by every ratepayer to this profiteering company. Our rates are the highest on Long Island, one of the highest in the country and approximately five times what our neighbors pay to a public company such as Jericho Water District. Instead of focusing on the $200, Legislator DeRiggi and her associates should be focusing on getting private water out of Nassau County.

The Suffolk County Legislature has gotten private water out of Suffolk with the Suffolk County Water Authority. Great Neck got it out as previously mentioned. The City of Baltimore became the first major city in the country to BAN private water companies. NYAW services 10 percent of Nassau County, including the homes of the county executive and Oyster Bay supervisor. Whenever Legislator DeRiggi was asked by the volunteer groups about the county getting involved, it was always: “The County has no money.”

No “civic group” approved this filtration system building. “Civic groups” do not approve building applications or issue building permits. The water company submitted an application to the Town Building Department and then to the Zoning Board of Appeals and it was approved.

Notices for these hearings are published in the same newspapers that published the legislator’s letter. In this case, the property owners within 300 feet of the proposed construction were notified as required by the Town.

They and their civic representatives met with the Town Zoning Board and water company representatives. There were several meetings held – in person, virtually and by conference call. The neighboring property owners were represented at these meetings.

The Village of Sea Cliff approved of the application. It is hard to believe that Legislator DeRiggi did not know about these meetings unless you consider the fact that this building she is complaining about is NOT in her district.

This proposed structure is next to the Glen Head railroad tracks in the 18th Legislative District. Legislator DeRiggi represents the 11th District, approximately one-half mile away. The building in question was also approved after an expert on industrial/commercial filtration systems, a retired local water commissioner and university professor, testified that a building was necessary for the system to properly function during sub-freezing weather conditions. The expert also said that this is the recommended method of construction in the industry in cold climate areas.

The legislator wants the ratepayers to call American Water and voice their opposition. Thousands of ratepayers have already signed petitions to get rid of this company. The ratepayers have a chance to speak at the public part of the PSC hearings which are coming up in November.

How about the county Legislature doing its “civic” and “ethical” duty and getting involved in the fight to get this community and all of Nassau County public water?

This company and any of these other private water MONOPOLIES are not only ripping off Glen Head, Glenwood and Sea Cliff but are doing so on the south shore from Massapequa to the Five Towns. This is a County issue and Legislator DeRiggi is a county legislator. Let’s look at the big picture

LLOYD NADEL
Attorney for Glen Head-Glenwood Landing Civic Council

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