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Residents Make Their Voices Heard At LIAW Public Hearing

Citizens and politicians alike protest proposed water rate hikes.

Local residents have made their voices clear - they are tired of paying through the nose for their water.

In a public hearing held in the Town of Hempstead's Nathan L.H. Bennett Hall on  Tuesday, customers of Long Island American Water (LIAW) got their chance to comment on , which has residents boiling at the Lynbrook-based company.

The hearing was presided over by administrative law judge Rafael A. Epstein and James L. Larocca, one of five Commissioners of the New York State Public Service Commission, the organization currently overseeing the LIAW rate hike proposal.

Epstein assured all speakers that their comments would be considered part of the public record and taken into account in regards to any decisions that will be made by the Commission.

One of the first speakers at the hearing was Nick Lalota, who was acting as an official representative of Senator Dean G. Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, and Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr., R-Merrick. Lalota read a prepared statement on behalf of the Senators, both of whom feel that their constituents are already stretched to their financial limits.

“We strongly urge you to reject LIAW's rate increase proposal,” Lalota said. “The communities we represent already pay high water bills, and high property taxes...Simply put, now is not the time to raise rates.”

Malverne resident Tom Gretch took especially strong exception to the alleged potential health issues of what he called the "brown water.”

"I and other residents went and got samples of Malverne and Lynbrook water,” Gretch said. “The iron content in my home’s water was double what the Nassau County Board of Health suggests.”

Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce member Jeff Greenfield echoed the intense concerns of his entire organization.

“The Lynbrook Chamber opposes the proposed increases to water rates,” Greenfield said. “We not only say this on behalf of our business members, who pay a hefty commercial rate, but as taxpayers of the Village of Lynbrook, and the Lynbrook school district.”

Like Gretch before him, Greenfield also cited health issues in regards to the LIAW’s water quality.

“I live in Rockville Centre, and the water there is excellent,” he said. “But when I go to my business in Lynbrook, my employees insist that I buy them bottled water.”

Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg, D-Merrick, was one of the more incensed speakers at the hearing. In addition to calling the absence of four of the five Public Service Commissioners overseeing the LIAW case “a disgrace,” he also expressed frustration at the timing of the proposed rate hike, given the nation’s economic turmoil.

“We’re in the middle of the worst recession since The Great Depression,” Denenberg said. “The income of the people who have to pay this increase is not going up, and local governments are struggling to do more with less. Yet a company with record profits is not being asked to do more with less.”

Representatives of LIAW were present at the hearing, and while they did not choose to speak publicly, they did issue the following statement to the press.

“Long Island American Water is committed to providing the highest quality water service to its customers,” the statement said. “The proposed rate increase is necessary to invest in essential infrastructure improvements while keeping pace with rising property taxes and increasing operational costs.”

Gretch walked out of the hearing, satisfied that he had spoken his mind and that his words were heeded.

“I think that there was no question that my voice was heard,” Gretch said. “The important part is that we also heard from people like Dean Skelos and Charles Fuschillo. I feel very comfortable that this entire rate hike will be reversed.”

In contrast, Greenfield left the hearing leery of the outcome, but hopeful that some progress was made.

“Today’s hearing was good, but I hope they listen, and I hope they react,” Greenfield said. “I think LIAW owns the rate payers and the consumers a lot more answers on the quality of water issues.”

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