With Liberty Utilities finalizing the $608 million purchase of New York American Water Jan. 3, many Lynbrook and East Rockaway residents have expressed hope for better service and lower rates.
Liberty, a subsidiary of Canadian company Algonquin Power & Utilities, is a regulated water, wastewater, natural gas, electric and propane utility company, providing local utility management, service and support to small and mid-sized communities across North America. According to its website, its goal is “to ensure we comply with all environmental regulations, which is an extension of our local, responsive and caring culture.”
The sale to Liberty came after many residents complained over the years about what they deemed unfair rate hikes and a lack of quality service from New York American Water. With the takeover, Liberty agreed to freeze rates through 2023 as part of a settlement with the state Public Service Commission, which approved the deal last month. Liberty will also keep current NYAW employees and managers for at least two years.
Responding to a Herald Facebook inquiry, Lynbrook resident Dee Frances was among many who stressed that water quality is an issue, noting they had experienced brown water in their homes under NYAW. Frances wrote that she was concerned about the price of water use, but more worried about water quality, saying her water is often orange and brown and stains her clothes and hardware.
“On top of the high bill, I also pay for a whole house filter and drinking water filters,” she said. “It’s so expensive having brown water. While it would be nice to have a cheaper water bill, I would want Liberty to really tackle getting us cleaner water.”
Larry Artz wrote that he wanted to keep politics out of water, while Declan Carroll said privatization is “always the worst idea because profits matter more than safety,” and Jennifer Stock questioned why a private company owns what she called “our precious water supply.”
Some residents said they were confused how they would pay their bills with a new company taking over, including East Rockaway resident Mary Mullagh Meneses. “We have no idea who we are paying and why,” she wrote. “We were never informed of anything.”
Liberty recently announced, however, that American Water would continue to provide payment services for New York customers for the foreseeable future. The NYAW website has a message from Liberty and links to help customers navigate the site and pay their bills.
The PSC’s approval of the sale included stipulations for Liberty to launch a customer service improvement plan, which would add 14 staff positions for the company, and to conduct a customer satisfaction survey after a year. Under the agreement, the utility must also create low-income assistance programs to identify customers who may need help with past-due bills. And the deal includes $23.5 million in funding from Liberty to limit the impact of past rate hikes that NYAW agreed to delay because of various factors, including the coronavirus pandemic.
In an email to the Herald, East Rockaway Mayor Bruno Romano congratulated Liberty on acquiring NYAW, and said he hoped the new utility would consider the area’s high cost of water when setting rates and work to provide clean water for the village.
“Through the years, we have had many issues with New York American Water, which have not been addressed, or just pushed off to the back burner,” Romano wrote. “I am hoping that Liberty Utilities keeps their commitment to their clients of keeping the cost of providing water at a very reasonable cost, and improve the water quality and service to their clients.”
Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach said he was pleased about the two-year rate freeze, but believed prices were still too high for ratepayers.
“I’m happy they agreed to a two-year freeze, but we still think village residents are overpaying for the product,” Beach said. “We still have additional filtering of our water in our homes. The charges on hydrant rentals are way out of hand. They need to reconsider their rates.”