Another Aqua/Willistown post to add two more video snippets courtesy of Ginny Kerslake featuring the actual Willistown unanimous vote to break up with Aqua over the sewer sale and comments from Chris Franklin of Aqua who is a Willistown resident. I will note I am sure this was hard for Aqua officials to hear, especially on the heels of Bucks County dumping them and the controversy in New Garden Township.
I have never been a fan of sewer sales because of the rate hikes which occur. Other than that I am somewhat ambivalent. But Act 12, which allows the rate jumping I think is wrong. It’s greedy.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board September, 2022:
Officials in Bucks County were absolutely right not to sell their system to a private company. Now, lawmakers must reverse the measure known as Act 12.
Published Sep 18, 2022
The Bucks County commissioners were correct to cancel the proposed $1.1 billion sale of the county’s sewer system to a private company. Other local governments should follow suit and stop the sale of any public sewer or water systems to a for-profit company.
The proposed $1.1 billion sale in Bucks County would have been the largest privatization of a public wastewater treatment system in the country. While the sale to Aqua Pennsylvania would have generated a one-time windfall for the county coffers, it also would have led to steep increases in sewer bills for consumers for years to come.
Other local governments have sold off their public water and sewer systems only to regret it as residents have seen their water bills increase by as much as 98%. The main argument from privatization supporters is that it leads to lower prices. But that has not been the case. An exhaustive study of the 500 largest water systems in the United States found that for-profit water systems charge an average of 58% more than publicly owned ones.~ Philadelphia Inquirer September 18, 2022
If you have paid attention to what I have written, what I also had a problem with all along with regard to Aqua buying Willistown’s sewer, was the way the residents were behaving. I understand upset, I was part of a group which successfully fought eminent domain in Ardmore years ago all the way to Washington, DC. So trust me, I get upset. But we were in on fighting our issue from jump, and in Willistown it seems like they only woke up after the deal was initially inked. Then there was an ocean of nastiness, vitriol and misinformation at times (even directed at me personally.) Along with repeated accusations that Willistown had done this essentially behind closed doors in secret, which wasn’t the truth, was it? People simply hadn’t been paying attention. And before everyone wants to jump on me (shocker, for a change), the agendas told a different story.
Last night? Willistown’s residents stood up and were the people I had hoped they could be. They were clear. They were well-spoken. They were marvelous. They weren’t imitating the storming of the Bastille.
Hindsight they say is 20/20, but Willistown residents? Remember this moment. Look at what you accomplished. I have been reading the comments on social media, and what some residents don’t realize is a lot of people played a part here. It stopped being an isolated Willistown issue. People from other communities also offered support. Like Ginny Kerslake and folks from New Garden, Bucks County, Norristown. Me? I just wrote about it and was lambasted most of the time by some factions in Willistown because I didn’t live there. No I don’t, but refer to blog title. I write about what interests me. And I live in a municipality where they did sell to Aqua. Right as the deal with East Whiteland was inked, the OCA in PA filed suit against the PUC about Aqua. That is still in court.
When East Whiteland announced they were selling the sewer, there really was no pushback, let alone much interest from residents. It was advertised, discussed at meetings, and voted on. Residents for the most part in East Whiteland didn’t object. It was very different from Willistown. BUT East Whiteland as far as I know can’t do anything much with the proceeds until the litigation is completed. They are in a holding pattern as in East Whiteland has the proceeds . For a while there was misinformation being disseminated by Willistown residents about East Whiteland’s sewer sale. I think Willistown residents thought East Whiteland may have changed their mind because nothing was happening. That wasn’t the case. It’s as simple as worlds colliding when East Whiteland had finalized the sale literally at the same time the Office of Consumer Advocate filed suit against the PUC. So big pause button until litigation is concluded. How will litigation potentially affect East Whiteland? I have no idea. (Here is the link to the East Whiteland page on their sale: https://eastwhiteland.org/434/Sewer-Sale )
Here is the letter Aqua sent to East Whiteland residents in August, 2022:
What concerns me will be potential rate hikes down the road?
This is also why the repeal of Act 12 is SO important. See below.
Aqua’s Chris Franklin (he is Chair of Essential Utilities) spoke about his company last evening in Willistown. He is a resident of Willistown. He refers to the history of Aqua and Essential Utilities back from when it was Philadelphia Suburban Water. With all due respect, they aren’t that same company from years ago.
I go far enough back now that I remember when Philadelphia Suburban Water acquired property in Bryn Mawr to grow their footprint back off of Lancaster Avenue and expand their corporate campus as it were. I remember the houses that once stood there, and I remember them empty before Philadelphia Suburban Water did their building.
I also remember when Aqua’s workers went on strike in 2012 and picketed. That was covered by Patch.
A group of more than 100 Aqua Pennsylvania union workers marched from Polo Field in Bryn Mawr to the headquarters on Lancaster Avenue late Saturday morning to express their anger at what they say are unfair contracts.
“Does Aqua PA, whose parent company recorded almost $124 million in profit last year, really need to increase the rates of hard working customers like you?” reads a flyer union workers were handing out to passersby. “Aqua PA seems to think so!”
Members of 32BJ SEIU, in purple union T-shirts, marched together westbound on Lancaster Avenue/Route 30 from Penn Street to Aqua America headquarters at 762 W. Lancaster Ave. shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday. The large group marched in both lanes, backing up traffic. Once at headquarters, they crossed the street and stood in both eastbound lanes, saying “Corporate greed has got to go.”~ Bryn Mawr patch january 2012
I have actually known some Aqua workers over the years. The guys on the job, not the suits in the proverbial ivory tower in Bryn Mawr. Nice guys, hard workers. But no more does Aqua have the lovely gentleman named Tim Lloyd who once was business liaison/PR guy for years and years. He was an amazing man. He talked to everyone. Even me. He was always super helpful. And for years if you had an issue you just called the main switchboard in Bryn Mawr, PA and spoke to a real live customer service person who cared. I remember a guy named Bill Miller who was a manager or a VP at Aqua. Also super nice and I am sure retired by now. But that was then, and this is now.
Sadly Aqua is out of touch today with their former local business selves. They are too big to remmeber or truly care in my humble opinion. The corporate suits are always out of sink with their workforce. The guys whom you see on the street are nice, just like Chris Franklin said. But are they really known to the suits in the proverbial ivory tower? Nope. (When I was looking for history, I found this page on Philadelphia Suburban Water and also this one.)
Aqua has an opportunity to do better. It’s not just about rescuing old municipal sewer systems and making buckets of money. It’s about the people they are supposed to serve, not take advantage of with rate hikes. They can learn from citizen groups like NOPE and Keep Water Affordable. And they can learn from the Willistown residents. I think we all underestimated the Willistown residents.
What the Willistown residents accomplished that culminated last night was amazing. Seriously. They should take a big old victory lap. However, is it over? Will Aqua let it go or will they file some sort of legal action? Time will tell.
Residents everywhere should pay attention to this as they organize to deal with issues in their own communities. Anything is possible if you come together and people put their egos and personal political beliefs aside. And you have to watch agendas and go to meetings, either in person or zoom.
The last word is the video of the Willistown Supervisors unanimously voting to break up with Aqua before prom. Willistown decided to have a date with her residents.
Thanks for stopping by.