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Are You Being Told:

  • The water/sewer system is in dire need of repairs

  • Essentially, it is falling apart

  • Costly repairs are needed

  • We cannot afford the repairs - or

  • Repairs would require a huge rate increase

  • Therefore, we have to sell

Then Start Asking Questions

 

If so, it is possible, maybe even likely, that they are telling you the only solution is to sell the system to
Big Water
.  If you are hearing this line, read on and start preparing to grill your elected officials with a ton of detailed questions.  And, do not accept evasive answers. 

New Garden Township Experience

We experienced the above scenario beginning in 2014 when New Garden Township started evaluating a sewer system sale.  Key justification for the sale was that major repairs were needed and that was going to require an almost 80% rate increase (the rate increase was also questionable, see this LINK). 

What follows are highlights about what we were told and what we have been able to piece together about the status of the sewer system. 

2015 Sewer System Status Reports

Two reports in 2015 summarized the condition of New Garden's two waste treatment plants.  A key feature is the statement:  "No corrective action plan required"  Things were not perfect, but it does not support the notion that the system was "falling apart".

Here are links to the EAST and SOUTH end reports  These are long reports.  Sections 6 & 9 are the focus here.

2016 Upgrade "Requirements"

The claim that $12 million were needed is difficult to reconcile with the system reports noted above.  At the time, New Garden did not provide its citizens very much information about what was needed.  The following is from FAQ’s posted by New Garden Township:

Read the actual FAQ's at the bottom of this page: (LINK)

2016 - Continued

Several months before New Garden issued its 2016 FAQ's,  Aqua had provided the following data:

It appears to us that a much more “apples to apples” comparison would have been New Garden’s $12 million five year plan versus Aqua’s $3.5 million over five years.   Instead, New Garden characterized Aqua's data as "... approximately $7,000,000 in the next few years...". 

 

$12 million, needed essentially “right now” was central to New Garden’s justification to either sell the system or raise rates almost 80%.  An “apples to apples” comparison with Aqua most likely would have raised some red flags.  Flags that we think should have been raised.

Details about New Garden's capital plan can be found here: LINK

2017 - Things Have Changed

About eight months after signing the sales contract, Aqua filed the following with the PUC: 

In that same Main Brief Aqua went on to state they were not projecting any other capital projects.  Full details here: LINK

So, New Garden’s $12 million or Aqua’s $7 million in July of 2016 had been reduced to $2.5 million by March of 2017.  A key requirement of Aqua's PUC filing is that they are attesting to the truthfulness of its contents.  This certainly calls into question New Garden's claims about what was needed. 

2019 - New Garden Public Meeting

On September 23, 2019 New Garden held a public meeting to kill a contractually guaranteed rate cap - a story of its own that is told here (LINK).  At that meeting the issue of needed investments was questioned.  Here is the question and answer:

It appears that the $12 million over five years noted in 2016 shrunk a bit.  Still five million within three years.  However, there is still a wide gap between this and Aqua's estimate to the PUC in 2017.  Incidentally, Aqua was present at that meeting and said nothing when this answer was given.  

Here is the full transcript of the 2019 meeting. 

2020 New Garden FAQ Posting

In early 2020 New Garden was required to mail all sewer customers a notification about the sewer sale.  New Garden also posted a set of FAQ's on its website to explain why customers were receiving the notice. 

The 2020 FAQ's repeated all the same $12 million and $7 million investment numbers found in the 2016 FAQ's cited at the top of this page.  In spite of the subsequent events just noted, no changes were made.  Details here: LINK

2023 - The Route 41 Force Main

This came up repeatedly as a major issue.  It was a $1.1 million immediate project in New Garden's 2014 capital plan.  As noted above, it was a key element of New Garden’s $12 million plan in the July‑2016 FAQ.  Also, as noted previously, Aqua included this item in its 2017 brief to the PUC.  Aqua  stated they would do some engineering evaluations of the situation. 

Was the force main really a critical need?  Judge for yourself – nine years later the line has not been replaced.

Actual Capital Spending By Aqua

Aqua’s capital investment in the New Garden sewer system is also indicative that the system was not falling apart.  Aqua has reported its capital spending for the first two years it has owned the system.  The investment has been:

Aqua Capital Spending 30-Nov-2023_edited

This is right in line with what Aqua stated in it’s Main Brief filed in 2017 (noted above).  Observations include:

 

#1 - The Spray Field Automation was to increase capacity at the South End plant and reduce labor costs.  It is probably well justified. 

 

#2 - The Dry Line Activation was putting an unused pipeline back in service.  Spending less than $700,000 saved over $1 million/year in wastewater trucking costs.  Every two years Aqua is earning triple its investment.  That kind of justification is “DUH” obvious.  It is something New Garden should have done years ago to stop trucking wastewater. 

 

#3 - Also, note that most of the  spending was in the first year.  It appears that Aqua got busy immediately and fixed the deficiencies. 

This is another indication that New Garden's claim that $12 million would be required to repair the system was substantially overstated. 

Conclusion

Before the sale we were told $12 million had to be invested if New Garden did not sell the system.  We think the information presented above pretty well destroys that claim.  What do you think?

If your water or sewer system is up for sale, are you hearing the story that it is falling apart?  Is the next line we cannot afford the upgrades needed?  Then it is time to

Question   Question   Question

 Your Local Officials. 

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