BY MICHAEL RICONDA
A court ruling on Friday opened the way for greater disclosure on United Water’s controversial desalination project, as the company will now be required to disclose records on project spending.
The decision by State Administrative Law Judge Kevin J. Casutto requires United Water to disclose documents which detail $38 million of $60 million in project spending. The documents include the particulars of how that money was spent, including vendor invoices and limited information on project bidders.
The decision is a blow to UWNY, which sought to pass the $56 million in pre-construction costs and $4 million in interest payments on to ratepayers without disclosing where the costs came from. UWNY fought to keep the records confidential on the grounds that they contain trade secrets, sensitive market data and confidential legal information subject to attorney-client privilege.
However, Casutto concluded UWNY did not prove the information could give them a competitive advantage that would characterize the data as a trade secret or that any confidentiality agreement existed with vendors.
“The company’s claims of potential competitive injury are general and speculative,” Casutto’s decision read. “The Company has failed to carry its burden to explain how disclosure of the contested records would result in substantial competitive injury. Therefore, the Contested Records are not excepted from disclosure as confidential competitive information.”
Casutto also ruled that UWNY’s contested legal documents are not protected under attorney-client or work product privilege. He concluded that because only legal invoices and basic identifying information on the company’s attorney are present, there is no risk of exposing sensitive information on pending legal matters.
Though the documents have not yet been released, their content is not completely unknown. According to Attorney Daniel Duthie, who represents the county and several of its towns, villages and school districts in a municipal consortium, stated the documents detail $29 million in expenses from six investors and $24 million from four separate environmental and engineering firms.
County Legislative Chairman and Water Resource Management Task Force member Alden Wolfe commented that the ruling was a step forward, but that UWNY was still holding back critical spending information.
“They are devoid of detail,” Wolfe said. “Some of the documents are literally just a conclusion and all of the meat is blacked out and it’s just a bottom line of who got paid and how much without sharing the nature of the services.”
UWNY’s desal project suffered several setbacks as public opposition, state scrutiny and internal troubles have marred their efforts to begin construction. In May, the State Public Service Commission determined Rockland’s water situation was not yet dire and recommended the company postpone plans to build the plant until at least 2020.
Internal matters might have also played a role. In September, UWNY CEO Michael Pointing left the company. Though the company would not comment on internal matters, it was suggested by confidential sources that Pointing was under investigation for misappropriation of funds and misstatements of revenue.