Promising to save taxpayers $233 million over the next 20 years, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano announced a partnership with United Water to manage and operate the County’s three wastewater treatment facilities, 53 pumping stations and 3,000-mile sewer system.
“This partnership was formed to dramatically improve the county’s ability to protect our environment and the health and well-being of our residents,” Mangano said. “Together with United Water, we will implement unprecedented advances in environmental protection, odor control, management efficiencies, plant aesthetics and public information.”
The county will pay United Water $57.4 million annually — adjusted yearly for inflation. The deal still needs approval by the County Legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board in control of the county’s finances.
About United Water
Through public and private partnerships and contract agreements, United Water operates 90 municipal water systems in the United States, many of them on the East Coast. Headquartered in Harrington Park, New Jersey, they provide water and wastewater services to more than 5 million people.
“In municipalities across the country, our firm has been entrusted with one of the most important assets of any community: its water supplies and sanitary sewage system,” said Bertrand Camus, CEO of United Water. “Every day, we treat billions of gallons of water, and we do it safely and effectively, while bringing operational savings to the taxpayer.”
Under a 20-year agreement, United Water will manage Nassau County’s three treatment plants —Bay Park in East Rockaway, which serves some 532,000 residents; Cedar Creek in Wantagh, serving 600,000 residents; and Glen Cove, which serves 27,000 residents — as well as its entire sewage system.
The county will maintain full ownership of the facilities, while United Water will be responsible for the plants’ around-the-clock operations, including their internal operations while still protecting the ecology of the surrounding wetlands and estuaries.
Reaction from civic, environmental groups
Trisha Kearney, financial secretary of the Bay Park Civic Association, said that since the county is not actually selling the plant but hiring a huge company to run the operation, is “the only alternative,” since the county, she said, has admitted to its incompetence in running the plant.
“We would be opposed to a transfer of ownership,” she said. “But [United Water] has a lot of experience with water management and wastewater management — and they do bear considerable expertise.” (In 2012, The Herald reported that several South Shore civic and elected leaders banded together to decry a proposal by Mangano to sell or lease these three sewage treatment plants to a private company for roughly $1 billion.)
Camus said that United Water would make it a priority to keep current county employees who are knowledgeable about these facilities. During the transitional phase, he said, the company will seek to permanently hire qualified county employees to work for United Water. They also hope to utilize certain county sewer employees through the contract, at a guaranteed minimum of $10 million savings annually for Nassau taxpayers. These employees will remain with the county but will work with United Water to help improve the environmental efficiency of the wastewater and sewage systems.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that her organization fully supports the county’s hiring of United Water.
“We believe this is an essential component for cleaner bays, estuaries and our ocean,” she said.” It has become exceedingly clear the [sewage plants] must be operated by a management and engineering firm, possessing a proven history of successfully operating, and implementing advanced wastewater technology.”
Esposito added that this arrangement should provide a unique opportunity to employ modern treatment technologies that will improve the quality of its effluent, abate plant noise and odor in the adjacent communities, and recover and utilize waste resources.
“An experienced contractor brings global resources, technology and knowledge that cannot be found in the county,” she said. “We believe a professional contractor, with community and county oversight, is the best safeguard for protecting public health, our groundwater and our waterways.”
Rob Weltner, president of Operation SPLASH, said that the direct connection between the performance of the county’s sewage treatment plants and the water quality of the bays and beaches means water treatment is crucial.
“We believe United Water will help us to achieve this goal by bringing worldwide experience and new technologies to our wastewater plants so that the residents and the sea life get what is deserves — and that is the absolute best.” he said.
Saving tax dollars
The PFM Group, a Wall Street-based financial consulting firm hired by Nassau to independently review the proposed agreement, found that on a present value basis, this agreement represents a savings over the term of the contract of $233.1 million. When the additional financial benefits of reduced overtime, county resumption of contracted services, and additional revenues resulting from personnel reassignments are considered, the combined contracted and synergy savings over the 20-year term rise to … $378.9 million.”
Under the agreement, United Water will provide written monthly reports to the county on the operation and maintenance of its sewage systems. They will meet regularly with the county to review operations and performance, and county officials will conduct inspections every year. Every five years, there will be a full-scale inspection and review of the state of repair, working conditions and performance of the three plants.
“From nitrogen removal to protecting our marshlands, from establishing a new public park near one of the facilities to improving our ability to recover from future storms, we have the means of making these plants more environmentally friendly, more efficient and better stewards of our environment,” Mangano said. “Some of the benefits will be obvious to everyone, other improvements will be noticeable only to neighbors, and still other improvements will be hidden behind technology and environmental metrics. Nevertheless, all residents and future generations will benefit regardless of where we live in Nassau County.”
Kearney said that she doesn’t believe the county will reveal the details of the contract until it becomes public record, and added that she hopes it will addresses noise, odor and will stipulate that residents living around the plant will be notified of any unusual circumstances or work that will be going on at the plant.
“I think for the most part, the devil is in the contract,” she said. “We would very much like to address the quality of life issues, and for the contract to be fully vetted by the Legislature and the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority.” She said that she and representatives of the Bay Park Civic Association, as well as other concerned citizens, will be present when the contact goes to the Legislature for approval.