Lawrence, CWA Chair Tell Lawmakers to Save Chester Water Authority09/23/2020 06:56PM ● By Steven Hoffman
At a committee hearing in the State Capitol last week, State Rep. John Lawrence, Chester Water Authority board chair Cynthia Letizell, and Penn Township director of operations Karen Versuk spoke with passion in favor of the continued independence of Chester Water Authority (CWA), and in support of House Bill 2597, which would block any sale of CWA without ratepayer approval.
“I wrote and introduced HB 2597 to give people a voice,” said Lawrence. “HB 2597 would require any sale of a public water or sewer authority to be approved by the ratepayers of that utility. The people who are most affected in this situation deserve the opportunity to speak and be heard.”
Formed in 1939, CWA provides quality drinking water at reasonable rates to over 200,000 people across Chester County, Delaware County, and the City of Chester. After rejecting an unsolicited takeover offer from a for-profit operator in 2017, CWA has been embroiled in 16 separate lawsuits related to the matter. Recent actions by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development have heightened concerns that the state might attempt to force a sale of CWA to bail out the financially troubled city of Chester.
“House Bill 2597 will give ratepayers the right to retain control over their water, Authority governance, and the Authority’s future” said CWA Board Chair Letizell. “Rep. Lawrence’s bill is needed because a state agency and the recently appointed Act 47 Receiver for Chester City are trying to force a sale of the Authority’s customers and assets to a for-profit water company and give the sales proceeds to the Chester City government.”
Letizell went on to highlight Chester Water’s efforts to keep rates reasonable, and pointed out that most of CWA’s ratebase is outside the City of Chester. “Why are the Authority’s customers, both City residents and the 79 percent of the customers who live outside the City, being asked to remedy the City’s needs by paying higher fees for their water for generations?,” she asked the committee.
“I am here today to respectfully voice support for HB 2597 proposed by Representative Lawrence,” said Versuk, the director of operations for Penn Township. “This is an important bill in a year when our citizens have had a lot of change, and little control. Providing them with control over their water by way of their sacred right to vote is critical.”
Versuk added that in her capacity with Penn Township, she has experience with both municipal and for-profit utility providers, as Chester Water Authority provides water to many Penn Township residents, with a private company providing waste-water treatment.
“Subjecting a municipal (water authority) to endless litigation in an effort to wear them down until they give in (to a sale) is not a precedent we should encourage,” added Lawrence. He noted New Jersey state law has long provided for a ratepayer referendum prior to any sale of a municipal water system in that state.
House Bill 2597 is currently under consideration by the House Consumer Affairs committee. The bill has seen bipartisan support from lawmakers across Chester Water Authority’s service area.