Letter originally published in Our Town, Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The writer is George Potanovic, Jr. from the Rockland Water Coalition.
I am writing to thank all the Rockland County residents and elected officials who came out in force on June 15 and 16 to speak out against the proposed SUEZ rate hike.
The company is now asking the NYS Public Service Commission to charge Rockland ratepayers an outrageous $54.5 million for expenses it claims United Water paid for the development of its failed Hudson River Desalination Plant—that was not needed, never approved, and never built. This request has revealed a blatant and ongoing lack of financial oversight by the PSC, which has approved millions of dollars of claims for payment that did not indicate services provided, primarily by engineering and legal firms
Would any of us agree to pay a bill from a contractor that only indicated the rate of pay for hours worked but with no indication of what services were actually provided? I would think not.
Fortunately, for the last five years, we have had an excellent attorney, Dan Duthie, fighting this rate case on behalf of Rockland County residents and the towns and villages who have joined in the Rockland Municipal Consortium.
Our Rockland Water Coalition and many of our elected officials have worked with Dan Duthie to successfully stop United Water’s desalination plant. If we had not been successful, we would all be drinking Hudson River water today, and paying double our water rates for the pleasure. The United Water/SUEZ plan was to ship more of our fresh water from Lake DeForest reservoir to its New Jersey customers and have Rockland pay the bill.
In 2015, the PSC had already determined that $39 million of these undocumented bills were considered “reasonable” and denied our request for a forensic audit of all expenses, which we believe is still necessary. Now, attorney Dan Duthie has been working to stop SUEZ from coming back to collect an additional $54.5 million desal surcharge as a “20-year mortgage” that would end up costing Rockland County residential, commercial, and municipal ratepayers—including school districts over $100 million dollars.
While we appreciate Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann and all the elected officials speaking out against the SUEZ rate increase at the PSC hearing, the case will be won or lost with the legal arguments made before the PSC in Albany. I am, therefore, puzzled—Why have Clarkstown Supervisors George Hoehmann and Stony Point Supervisor Jim Monaghan agreed with Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli to pull out of the Rockland Municipal Consortium led by Dan Duthie, the attorney who is experienced with a proven track record fighting the desal plant, and hire their own attorney, Joel Dichter, who has no experience on the issues at this late stage of the rate case?
As it turns out, Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips has been asking towns and villages to drop out of the Municipal Consortium in an effort to undermine support for Dan Duthie. It is understandable since Phillips has an axe to grind after losing the desalination plant for his town. However, it seems he had found a sympathetic ear in Clarkstown Councilman, Frank Borelli, whose father served on the Board of Directors of United Water for more than 20 years and had been a big stockholder.
Councilman Borelli also currently serves as a board member of Leadership Rockland with Bill Madden, the SUEZ Director of Community Outreach who was the advertising and PR guru that United Water had hired to produce TV commercials and ads meant to sell its desalination plant as necessary and a good idea for Rockland County. Madden, on behalf of SUEZ, has purportedly been working with Phillips and Borelli and others in an attempt to undermine support for Duthie among the towns and villages that have joined in with the Rockland Municipal Consortium.
We stand stronger in Rockland when we stand together. Our elected officials take an oath to represent the people’s interests and we should be assured that they are free from the potential conflicts of interest and downright underhanded tactics that seem at play here.
Hold onto your wallet Rockland. SUEZ is using every political connection and backdoor deal it can to have us bail them out to the tune of $54.5 million for its failed desal plant—a bad business decision that should be paid for by their own stockholders.
George Potanovic, Jr.