The New York State Public Service Commission approved a joint proposal this week to raise rates for customers of Long Island American Water, including residents in Malverne and Lynbrook who are still not satisfied with what's flowing out of their taps.
"The annual bill for a residential customer with a 5/8” meter using 72,000 gallons per year would increase 2.45 percent, to $391.73, in the fiscal year ending March 2013; then by 2.63 percent, to $402.05, the following year, and by 2.17 percent, to $410.78, in the third," according to the 149-page order released Tuesday by the Commission, which can be accessed here. (A spokesman for LIAW said the roughly $5.5 million increase averages out to an initial increase of less than 3 cents per day for the typical residential customer.)
"In today's economy, this is all brought down on the taxpayers...and it's not a good situation," Malverne Deputy Mayor Joseph Hennessy said. "We still have the problem with brown water in parts of the village. Until we have an acceptable solution they shouldn't have gotten any increase."
According to LIAW, much of the rate increase was driven by capital investments of more than $50 million put into service since the company’s last rate case in 2007. This included an $8 million iron removal treatment facility in the Town of Hempstead, the replacement and rehabilitation of more than 16 miles of aging water main, and "upgrading pipes, pumps and treatment plants to ensure that our water service meets or exceeds all state and federal quality standards,” said LIAW President William Varley. “We are grateful that the Public Service Commission has recognized our investment.”
Citing feedback collected from customers across several months, the commission said a main issue that was raised was the "the quality of water provided by LIAW, primarily in the Village of Malverne." It writes, "Customers complain of brown discoloration, seemingly caused by iron content, which they say permeates bath water; damages laundry, appliances, heating systems, and exterior grounds; and reduces property values as customers post complaints on the internet."
It goes on to discuss some of the testimonials shared by residents on the "I Love Malverne...But Hate the Brown Water (from LI Water)" Facebook page,"and held last February in the Malverne Public Library, as well as the conducted in Malverne homes.
Based on this information, the commission is directing LIAW to "collaborate with the [its] staff as well as interested customers and community representatives, initially in Malverne and then elsewhere as appropriate, to clarify exactly when and where discoloration is a problem and thus identify reasonable and effective remedies."
The company will be required to initiate the collaborative efforts within 30 days of the March 20 order and to submit written reports so that customers and the commission's staff can analyze and comment on whether adequate progress is being made. LIAW will also have to provide cost-effective means for customers to alert the company when they spot problems with their tap water.
"We seek to ensure that any costs ultimately borne by customers are reasonably necessary for the provision of service," the report states.
Although a rate increase was granted, Thomas Grech, a Malverne resident who rallied his neighbors last year to speak up about their brown water problems, considered the commission's decision a victory for residents who have taken on the 'Goliath' Long Island American Water.
"l am really thrilled that due to overwhelming community support, starting with Malverne and including Lynbrook and West Hempstead areas, the Public Service Commission reduced LIAW's rate request from to just over 7 percent, spread over three years," he told Patch.
Grech, who created the Facebook group dedicated to this issue, praised the power of social media and Patch's coverage for giving residents a powerful voice in this battle.
"Financially, this is a win, but the even bigger victory from my perspective is the fact that the PSC is holding LIAW completely and fully accountable and responsible for determining the root cause of the on-going brown water issue and requiring specific remedial action to correct it, once and for all."
LIAW has also proposed building a new iron removal plant in Lynbrook at 228 Whitehall St., and the Lynbrook board of trustees has yet to accept their proposal. The current two well sites no longer meet drinking water standards because of the high iron content, according to LIAW Manager of Engineering Ben Claase.
The board said they will have a decision at the on Monday, April 2, and Mayor William Hendrick said they are leaning towards granting the permit if LIAW meets certain conditions, such as promising to keep noise down during construction.
What do you think of the Commission's decision? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.