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Worry over privatizing sewer management

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to hire

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to hire a private operator to manage Merrick's sewage system has some residents upset. (Sept. 14, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Several dozen Merrick-area residents 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 the need for public oversight to potential cost increases, loss of local control and possible environmental effects.

At a meeting Thursday night sponsored by the North and Central Merrick Civic Association, residents discussed how the plan could affect the community and asked questions about the proposal for the county's sewage treatment plants at Cedar Creek, Bay Park and Glen Cove.

The meeting at the North Merrick Library included presentations by Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) and civic association president Claudia Borecky about the potential public-private partnership of the sewage system, which serves about 1 million customers who pay about $185 to $200 a year in sewage taxes.

"Something that is such an asset . . . is probably best in the hands of the public," Denenberg said at the meeting, adding that taxpayers and county officials would continue to have oversight if the plants remain public. "The truth is a private company could end up with a monopoly over a public necessity."

Mangano hopes to get $1 billion if the plan is executed, Denenberg said. The proceeds would help close the 2012-2015 budget gap, but Denenberg called the proposal a "one-shot budget gimmick."

"It is irresponsible for a legislator to fear monger and mislead the public for his own political gains," said Rob Walker, Nassau deputy county executive, adding that Mangano plans sessions to inform the "public of the facts and solutions for a productive way to move forward."

"The bottom line is we shouldn't have to depend on our sewage treatment plants to close the budget gap," said Borecky, who in January formed the Nassau Coalition of Civic Associations, a group of more than 60 civic associations that are speaking out on the issue.

The We the People Save Our Waters Coalition, also headed by Borecky, is demanding full disclosure of the county's proposal and participation in the process -- including establishing a citizens' advisory committee -- before the county completes any deal, Borecky said.

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