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Chester County Press

Ruggieri campaigns to save Chester Water Authority and Octoraro Reservoir

10/28/2020 04:48PM ● By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

In his campaign literature and on his website, Richard Ruggieri, the Democratic candidate for the 13th legislative district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, advertises himself as a “true independent voice.”

As he prepares to go head-to-head with incumbent Republican lawmaker John Lawrence in a Nov. 3 election that will determine who will head to Harrisburg for the next two years, Ruggieri believes that his independent voice will ultimately be the right voice to help save the Chester Water Authority (CWA) – and the 620-square-acre natural resource known as the Octoraro Reservoir that sits in District 13.

Together with the Susquehanna River Basin, the Octoraro Reservoir supplies CWA’s Octoraro Treatment Plant with an average of 32 million gallons of water per day.

While Ruggieri’s platform is dotted with a generous blend of issues he will address if he is elected to the House – gerrymandering, gun control, education, job training and health care are at the top of his to-do list – it is saving the CWA from a hostile takeover by the Bryn Mawr-based water company Essential Utilities, Inc. (formerly Aqua Pa.) that rises above the rest, and one that needs an independent voice.

“Preserving the reservoir and the CWA is not a Republican or a Democrat issue,” he said. “It’s our issue. So many times, people come to a preconceived idea of a candidate before the candidate opens his or her mouth, and everything one says is seen through the lens of polarized politics. In the case of the CWA, it’s important to be that independent voice, because that fight is going to have to convince so many people to join the fight to save the CWA and the district’s most precious natural resource.

Ruggieri is looking to become one of the leading voices in the fight to leave “well enough alone,” by saving the Authority and the reservoir from what some feel will lead to high rates, the loss of the two-billion-gallon reservoir and loss of control of public water to a publicly-traded company who is beholden to its shareholders. 

Ironically for Ruggieri, one of the leading advocates in saving the reservoir and the CWA has been the individual whose name is listed on the ballot beside his.

John Lawrence has emerged as one of the leading voices in the fight to save the CWA.  At a committee hearing in the state Capitol in September, Lawrence joined with Chester Water Authority Board Chair Cynthia Letizell and Penn Township Chief of Operations Karen Versuk in support of House Bill 2597 – a bill written and introduced by Lawrence. If passed, it would block any sale of the CWA without ratepayer approval. If a majority of ratepayers oppose the sale, the Public Utility Commission would be required to disapprove the sale.

With bipartisan support behind it, the bill is currently under consideration by the House Consumer Affairs Committee.


Ironic twist

Recently, Ruggieri introduced an ironic twist into Lawrence’s involvement with the CWA that he believes brings the depth of Lawrence’s sincerity to save the CWA into question, and has emerged as the key talking point of Ruggieri’s campaign.

In an online article he published in October, Ruggieri wrote that Lawrence accepted campaign donations from what was then Aqua Pa. during the elections cycles of 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Ruggieri also wrote that Lawrence has also taken contributions from Energy Transfer, which is a partnership between Aqua and Sunoco, and the company involved in the Mariner East II pipeline. Most recently, Ruggieri added, Lawrence accepted a $25,000 contribution from Mike Turzai, former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who left his position in June for a job with a division of Essential Utilities, Inc.

(According to the state’s campaign finance online reporting website, Lawrence received the $25,000 contribution from Turzai on June 13, 2020.)

“Then two days after accepting the money, Rep. Lawrence announced his ratepayer referendum legislation that is vaguely written with potential loopholes that for-profit water companies can exploit,” Ruggieri wrote. “If Rep. Lawrence really wants to save the CWA, why did he accept the contribution from Turzai? How can John represent constituents who are fighting every day to save their water and open space when he’s taking huge handouts from for-profit water companies?”

Ruggieri accused Lawrence of entering into the CWA issue late in the game, “because it’s an election year,” he said. “He could have gotten behind CWA whenever he wanted to, but hasn’t proposed legislation until the last minute.

“My philosophy is that we should not have for profit companies owning our natural resources, especially in places where we have good organizations running them. I don’t think that John is philosophically opposed to that, nor is the Republican Party. I think they’re okay with companies owning our natural resources and making profits off of our natural resources.

“The voters need to ask, ‘If John wins, is he going to fight to save the CWA, or is he just going to take his foot off the gas and coast, and let the litigation take over and kick it down the road a bit and hope it gets solved?’”

If Ruggieri replaces Lawrence, he would initiate legislation that would, if passed, reverse 2016’s Act 12, that left the CWA vulnerable to a takeover by a for-profit water company. If it passes, the legislation would no longer permit private companies to buy municipal authorities unless the authorities are in financial or operational distress, and would not permit private companies to offer to buy municipal authorities for more than they are worth.

If elected, Ruggieri said he would commit his involvement to save the CWA by creating an environmental trust for the Authority.

“It is time to root out the corruption of special interests in our legislature,” Ruggieri said. “Our natural resources belong to us and must not be in the hands of those who are looking for profit over the health and safety of our community. We must stop those who blatantly defy our constitutional rights as Pennsylvanians.”


Other issues, other platforms

If Ruggieri beats Lawrence – who is campaigning for what would be his sixth term in the House – he said that he would not put all of his political eggs into the basket of saving the CWA and the Octoraro Reservoir. While he supports the Second Amendment, he also supports common sense gun safety, universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, and if elected, he would also increase firearm training. 

He backs efforts to end gerrymandering by eliminating data mapping strategies and the redrawing of the districts in southeastern Pennsylvania from its current “Mickey Mouse kicking Donald Duck” diagram to a more fair delineation.

On the issue of tax reform, Ruggieri would look to end partisan gridlock and support House Bill 1675, currently on the House floor, which if signed into law would allow seniors 65 and older to apply for a freeze in their taxes for as long as they are living in their home.

A ten-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Ruggieri would call for an increase in healthcare access benefits with a focus on mental health,  more supervision of veteran’s nursing homes, job training and job placement programs for those who are honorably discharged.

Leaning in his expertise and career in the internet technology field, Ruggieri would support initiatives to provide faster internet technology to District 13.


New campaign, new world

In 2018, when Sue Walker campaigned for the same seat Ruggieri is now looking to occupy, he served as Walker’s field director at its West Grove headquarters. His job was to recruit volunteers, train them in how to properly canvas the district and how to analyze data.

That was two years ago. Because of a worldwide pandemic, Ruggieri has had to curtail the normal door-to-door, neighborhood-by-neighborhood tours and lean heavily on the breadth and reach of social media. To Ruggieri, the impact of COVID-19 is not only public, it is personal; he has seen his grandmother in northern Pennsylvania be forced to move out of her nursing home facility and move in with his mother. He has seen another family member’s job furloughed in a predicament that had forced him to take unemployment benefits for the first time in his working life.

Ruggieri has fought back against the grain of hardship that he’s seen in his local community. In the spring, he formed Operation Good Neighbor, a food drive effort that helped collect and deliver food to food banks in the Avon Grove, Oxford and Octorara Area school districts.

It’s a new campaign in a new world, Ruggieri said.

“Now, we have people who are losing their jobs, their homes, and parents who are either paying for child care or tending to children who are attending school from home,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are below water right now, and I don’t know that we completely appreciate the number of people who are really suffering right now.

“It has sharpened my focus in this campaign.”

To learn more about Richard Ruggieri’s campaign for the 13th legislative district of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, visit www.ruggieri13pa.com.


To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]y.com