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Firm hired to study water takeover

The Water Authority of Southeastern Nassau County has hired a firm to study a possible public takeover of part of American Water Works Co.'s Long Island service area.

George E. Sansoucy, P.E., Llc, of Newington, N.H., a utility appraisal and engineering services firm, was named Thursday at a meeting in Merrick.

The firm will be paid an initial $55,000 to study the potential costs and benefits of taking over the service area, which was formerly owned by Aqua New York Inc. The study should be done in three to four months, officials said.

If the authority pursues a takeover, the firm would receive another $25,000 for additional evaluation services, documents show. The authority will use $75,000 in funds committed by the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay to help pay for the study. If the authority approves a takeover, the funds would have to be repaid, authority chairman Richard Ronan said.

"They were a well-rounded and qualified company for this particular task," said John L. Reinhardt, secretary for the authority, who is also the commissioner of Hempstead Town's Department of Water.

The parent company of Long Island American Water purchased the former Aqua New York in May. The deal was completed despite interest by the authority in taking over Aqua. Authority members have said state law gives them the power to take over Aqua's former service area in parts of Hempstead and Oyster Bay towns, even with the purchase of Aqua.

As part of the deal, water rates for Long Island customers will be frozen until April 1, 2015. The rate freeze will give the water authority time to look into a takeover, Ronan said.

"We are taking away their livelihood, and they are going to fight," Ronan said, adding the authority can run the system, turn it over to another company or create a separate special water district for each town.

Supporters of a public takeover said it could mean long-term savings for former Aqua customers. Authority members argued a takeover would result in the loss of property taxes paid by the water company, which school districts would have to recoup through increased taxes. Ratepayers in the service area would have to vote on a public takeover.

"I am paying three times more for a gallon of water than most people that I know," Raymond Sheehan, 59, of Massapequa, said at the meeting. "I hope that a takeover is possible."

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