Who is carrying water for SUEZ? Water activist suspicious of late-in-the-game lawyer swap

Community View by George Potanovic, Jr. of the Rockland Water Coalition

Potanovic names names in this attack on proposed water rate hikes
Potanovic names names in this attack on proposed water rate hikes

I am writing to thank all the Rockland County residents and elected officials who came out in force on June 15 and 16 to speak out against the proposed SUEZ rate hike. The company is now asking the NYS Public Service Commission to approve an outrageous $54.5 million for expenses it claims United Water paid for the development of its failed Hudson River Desalination Plant – that was not needed, never approved and never built. This request also reveals a blatant lack of oversight by the PSC, which approved millions of dollars of claims for payment that did not indicate services provided, primarily by engineering and legal firms.

Would any of us agree to pay a bill from a contractor that only indicated the rate of pay for hours worked but with no indication of what services were actually provided? I would hope not.

Fortunately for the last five years, we have had an excellent attorney, Dan Duthie, fighting this rate case on behalf of Rockland County residents and the towns and villages who have joined in the Rockland Municipal Consortium. Our Rockland Water Coalition and many of our elected officials have worked with Dan to successfully stop United Water’s desalination plan. If we were not, we would be drinking Hudson River water today, and paying double our water rates for the privilege while United Water/SUEZ had planned to ship more of our fresh water from Lake DeForest reservoir to its New Jersey customers.

In 2015, the PSC had already determined that $39 million of these undocumented bills were “reasonable” and denied our request for a forensic audit of all expenses. Now, in this rate case, our attorney, Dan Duthie, has been working to stop SUEZ from coming back to collect an additional $54.5 million desal surcharge as a “20-year mortgage” that would end up costing Rockland County residential, commercial and municipal ratepayers – including school districts over $100 million dollars.

While we appreciate Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann speaking out against the SUEZ rate increase at the PSC hearing, I am puzzled why he and Supervisor Jim Monaghan of Stony Point have agreed with Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli to pull out of the Rockland Municipal Consortium lead by Dan Duthie and hire their own attorney, Joel Dichter, at this late stage in the rate case?

As it turns out, Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips has been asking towns and villages to drop out of the Municipal Consortium in an effort to undermine support for Dan Duthie. It is understandable since Phillips has an axe to grind after losing the desalination plant for his town. However, it seems he had found a sympathetic ear in Frank Borelli, the Clarkstown Town Councilman whose father was once director of United Water and retains a longstanding relationship with the company.

Borelli also currently serves as a board member of Leadership Rockland with Bill Madden, the recently hired by SUEZ Director of Community Outreach. Madden is the advertising and PR guru that United Water had hired to produce TV commercials and ads meant to sell its desalination plant as necessary and a good idea for Rockland County. Madden, on behalf of Suez, has purportedly been working with Phillips to undermine support for Duthie among the other towns and villages in the Rockland Municipal Consortium.

When an elected official takes the oath to represent the people, they should avoid the kinds of conflicts of interest that seem to at play here. Hold onto your wallet Rockland. SUEZ is using every political connection and backdoor deal it can to have us bail them out to the tune of $54.5 million for its failed business decision that should be paid for by their own stockholders.

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