Oct 20, 2023

Court Stops Aqua's Sale of East Whiteland Sewer Plant

EAST WHITELAND, PA —Commonwealth Court halted Pennsylvania Wastewater's purchase of the East East Whiteland Township sewer system for $55 million.

The system also accepts waste from neighboring Charlestown Township and the Borough of Malvern.

It serves 8,200 residential and commercial customers.

Patrick M. Cicero, the consumer advocate of the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocates, petitioned Commonwealth Court to overturn Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission’s approval of the sale.

Jeanne Russo, Aqua spokesperson, said Tuesday that company officials are reviewing the decision and it would be premature to comment.

"The case represents a significant win for consumers," Cicero said. "Each transaction must stand alone and provide affirmative benefit to the public before the PUC can approve the sale.”

Cicero said judges correctly found that the PUC must conduct a fact-based evaluation to only approve acquisitions where the public is affirmatively better off because of the transaction than it would be in the absence of the transaction.

The three-judge panel concluded that the PUC abused its discretion in the approval of the sale.

President Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer in a 22-page opinion concluded that the township’s system is providing capable service without rate increases that would occur with the sale.

“The commission’s findings that Aqua’s acquisition of the system will result in affirmative public benefits are not supported by substantial evidence,” Jubelirer wrote in a 22-page opinion.

The panel concluded that the township service is available 24/7 and provides reliable service and can afford any upgrades if necessary.

Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater is a subsidiary of Aqua Pennsylvania—a regional water company that provides public drinking water to approximately 1.5 million people throughout 32 counties in Pennsylvania.

A 2016 Pennsylvania law encourages municipalities to sell sewer plants. Aqua also provides water services to East Whiteland.

Aqua is based in Bryn Mawr and has 20,000 wastewater connections and 11 treatment plants in Pennsylvania.

In nearby Willistown Township, the township supervisors terminated an agreement to sell the plant to Aqua.

Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate and a township resident petitioned the Commonwealth Court to overturn the Public Utilities Commission’s approval of Aqua Pennsylvania purchasing the township’s sewer plan for $17.5 million. The Willistown plant services 94 customers.

Bucks County recently withdrew plans to sell its sewer system to Aqua. The borough of Norristown in Montgomery County also ditched a plan to sell Aqua its sewer system.

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