New York American Water has agreed to sell its property at 325 Prospect Ave. in Sea Cliff to the village, discounting it by $1 million. This would enable the village to take ownership of the two-and-a-half acre lot, which consists of an office building and a pump station, for $600,000 and repurpose it.
Additionally, all ratepayers throughout the water district — which includes Sea Cliff, Glen Head, Glenwood Landing and some residents of Glen Cove, Roslyn Harbor and Old Brookville — will split a $1.6 million credit on their future water bills, in accordance with recommendations made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We have worked collaboratively with the village to preserve this unique parcel of open land, while ensuring the net proceeds of the $1.6 million proposed sale would benefit our Sea Cliff customers,” NYAW President Lynda DiMenna said in a statement. “New York American Water will be submitting a petition regarding the proposed sale for the New York State Public Service Commission’s consideration and approval.”
Sea Cliff village administrator Bruce Kennedy said the village and NYAW are working on a joint petition, which they intend to submit to the PSC within the next few days. The property sale agreement still must be approved by the state Supreme Court and the PSC and pass through a 30-day public comment period before the purchase can become official.
In an executive session at its Aug. 7 meeting, the Sea Cliff board of trustees discussed the village’s next step in moving forward with pending litigation involving New York American Water and the New York Public Service Commission, according to a press release provided by the village the following day.
The village brought an Article 78 proceeding against NYAW in September of 2017 in response to “unreasonable” rate increases for Sea Cliff residents. An April 2018 PSC report found that NYAW’s “erroneous tax calculations” caused an overpayment of $2.3 million over the previous four years. Sea Cliff ratepayers were overcharged by $282,000, or $65.50 per customer, according to the report. Cuomo eventually stepped in, insisting NYAW correct its mistakes and compensate ratepayers for their overpayments.
Kennedy and Sea Cliff Mayor Ed Lieberman both said the discounted purchase of the property will benefit the village and its residents. “The potential of obtaining this property would be an incredible benefit to the residents of the Village of Sea Cliff,” Kennedy said, “not only because it can be used for a variety of public services, but it would also ensure that a developer would never take over the property.”
Lieberman said he is “very excited” about the village’s progress throughout these proceedings. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a win-win situation,” he said, later adding, “We’re very pleased that this is finally on the verge of being resolved.”
He also said that the proceedings are, in part, meant to help establish a public water entity for Nassau County, which would effectively end residents’ dependence on private water companies like NYAW. He said the village has received state grants secured by former Sen. Carl Marcellino and Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, to make that happen.
Most expensive on L.I.
According to a study by Citizens Campaign for the Environment released on Tuesday, there is a massive discrepancy between what residents across Long Island are paying for their water. And with annual estimates of $1,124.52 in water payments per year, the North Shore-Sea Cliff district is the most expensive. For comparison, ratepayers in Jericho, who live less than 10 miles away, pay an average of $195.89 per year on water.
“New York American Water is aware of the inequity of the tax system, which places a burden on New York American Water customers while all other Long Islanders are exempted,” said Lee Mueller, NYAW’s external affairs manager. “For our Service Area 2 North Shore customers, taxes make up 59 percent of their bill. We will continue to work with elected officials to right this wrong for the benefit of our customers.
“Furthermore, we would caution against comparing rates between public and private water systems, as there are significant differences between the two in terms of taxes, rate structures and investments,” Mueller continued. “New York American Water makes significant investments in our infrastructure to ensure the sustainability of our systems and to deliver high-quality water to our customers that meets all regulations, including pending regulations regarding emerging contaminants.”
Gaughran, who has long advocated for public water on Long Island, released a statement condemning NYAW.
“NYAW is not only the single most expensive water provider on Long Island, its rate structure is confusing and difficult to navigate, [its] customer service is abysmal, the company lacks transparency and fails in communications with customers,” he said. “This report underscores that clean, safe drinking water is a human right and affirms our battle for public water on Long Island.”
Agatha Nadel, of Glen Head, is a founding member of North Shore Concerned Citizens, a local group dedicated to fighting NYAW’s presence in the community and establishing a public water entity. She said that while she is pleased the $1.6 million credit should benefit the entire district, any relief that ratepayers receive would be negated by further surcharges.
Nadel is also part of a village task force tasked with developing a feasibility study to establish a public water entity. She said she is “cautiously optimistic” that the study will yield a positive outcome and that the Town of Oyster Bay will ultimately condemn NYAW. She hopes to see support from Albany in grants to buy out NYAW.
“The goal is still affordable public water,” Nadel said. “As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t going change the end goal.”
When Nadel heard that the North Shore Water District was the most expensive on Long Island, she said she was not surprised. In fact, she said she was almost glad to see the district at the top of the list, as it validated what she and others in North Shore Concerned Citizens have been “screaming and fighting about” for years. Now she hopes that elected officials will step in to bring public water to the North Shore Water District.
Steve Warshaw, of Glen Head, said he is more concerned with NYAW’s continued high water rates than the village’s securing of the Prospect Avenue property. “It’s a sad epilogue that we get stuck with high bills,” he said, “and Sea Cliff purportedly gets a good reduced price on a piece of land that they believe is valuable to them.”
Alyssa Seidman contributed to this story