Cuomo Orders Study On Public Takeover Of New York American Water

Alex Costello for Patch South Shore

February 03, 2021

Originally published in Patch South Shore on February 03, 2021.

The study will look at the feasibility of a public takeover of the utility, which has faced criticism for its large rate increases.

LONG ISLAND, NY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that the state will launch a study into a public takeover of New York American Water, Long Island's largest privately owned water company.

The study will be led by Rory Lancman, the special council for ratepayer protection at the state Department of Public Service. New York American Water has faced mounting criticism from customers and politicians over drastically increased fees over the last few years.

"For far too long, the 120,000 customers of New York American Water on Long Island have been plagued by exorbitantly high rates for water — this simply cannot continue," Cuomo said in a statement. "New York is immediately launching an effort to thoroughly study all options to reduce customer costs for this vital necessity and a basic right, including a public takeover. New Yorkers deserve access to clean, safe and affordable water and we are going to pursue every avenue to make that happen."

New York American Water, which has its Long Island office in Merrick, services customers in Merrick, North Merrick, Bellmore, North Bellmore, Wantagh, North Wantagh, Seaford, Sea Cliff, Glen Head, Glenwood Landing, and parts of Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Levittown, Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Old Brookville, Roslyn Harbor and Glen Cove.

The Department of Public Service is currently reviewing the $600 million sale of New York American Water to Canadian company Liberty Utilities. The state says that the news of the sale sparked lots of local interest in a public takeover of the system. Both Sea Cliff and Massapequa submitted comments about the feasibility of taking over parts of the system.

Last November, Cuomo had put forward a bill that called for a study into a public takeover of New York American Water. That bill said the study had to begin by April 1, 2021. Cuomo's latest act directs the Department of Public Works to begin the study immediately.

"Gov. Cuomo is leaving no option off the table when it comes to protecting ratepayers, and that includes potentially municipalizing all or part of New York American Water Company on Long Island," said Lancman. "The results of our analysis will help the Governor, the commission, legislators, local government officials and customers make an informed decision on how best to reduce water rates and provide safe and reliable drinking water in the long-term."

The study being conducted by Lancman will include opportunities for public comment and public hearings. It will be completed by April 1.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, has been an advocate for New YOrk American Water customers. He said he supports the study.

"Long Islanders have been forced to live with American Water's ridiculously high rates and poor service for too long," said Kaminsky. "It is past time for an impartial study to determine how clean, affordable water can best be provided to our communities. I applaud the governor for making this a priority, and will continue to lead the fight for utility transparency and affordability. Ratepayers deserve nothing less."