Residents voice concerns on sewer plan

The Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in The Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in Wantagh. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich, 2010

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Several dozen residents at a new civic group's meeting expressed concerns about Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to hire a private operator to manage the county's sewage system -- their worries ranging from potential cost increases and loss of local control to possible environmental effects and safety issues.

At the Tuesday night meeting sponsored by the newly formed Nassau County Coalition of Civic Associations, the group adopted a resolution seeking full disclosure and oversight -- including the establishment of a citizens' advisory committee -- of the county's proposal for its sewage treatment plants at Cedar Creek, Bay Park and Glen Cove. The group also wants the county legislature to hold public hearings before the county completes any deal.

"We want them now, not after the fact that the contract is already signed," said Claudia Borecky, president of North and Central Merrick Civic Association, who formed the new coalition in January.

The meeting at Lido Beach Town Park included remarks from Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) and Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), who spoke to about 30 people and commended the coalition's work against the potential public-private partnership of the sewage system, which serves about 1 million customers and has about 3,000 miles of sewers. The partnership could net Nassau $865 million, according to county documents.

"They are selling us out -- we the taxpayers," said Wantagh resident Tom Gallagher, 77, adding at the meeting that he was concerned that rates would go up under a private operator. "It looks like it is a one-shot deal no matter how you look at it."

On Monday, the Republican-controlled legislature's rules committee approved a contract with Morgan Stanley & Co. that will pay the financial services firm at least $5 million. Morgan Stanley would broker a deal with a private operator to manage the plants beginning in 2013 and with an investor who would fund the transaction.

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Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said that under the proposed partnership the county would retain ownership of the facilities. Nevin said Mangano has pledged not to raise sewer rates and has guaranteed full transparency of the process. The county is planning to host informational sessions about the plan, Nevin said.

"A public-private partnership will seek to improve environmental performance and improve maintenance of the infrastructure," Nevin said in a statement. "Private operators have proposed to implement bulk purchasing, cut energy costs, shut down obsolete equipment and make other operating improvements."

Scott Bochner, of the We the People Save Our Waters Coalition, argued at the meeting that the plan would be bad financially over the long term.

"This is a crazy deal and you have to go back to your civics and tell them," the Long Beach resident said. He added, "There is no reason to leverage our future."

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