The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Monday granted the Chester Water Authority’s request to file an appeal of a Commonwealth Court’s ruling in its ongoing dispute over Aqua America’s plan to purchase the municipal water system.
In an order of “allocatur” — a petition to an appellate court for permission to be allowed to file an appeal— the Supreme Court said it would let Chester Water appeal on two issues in its dispute with Aqua and the City of Chester. Specifically:
- Does the city of Chester have the right to seize the Chester Water Authority’s (CWA) assets and sell them?
- Did the Commonwealth Court err in allowing someone other than the CWA to control the transfer of its assets?
“We’re very grateful the court has agreed to address these questions,” said CWA solicitor Frank Catania. “It’s important to preserve the public’s control of their drinking water. It’s fundamental to human life.”
Aqua America has made a $410 million bid for the water system, which serves 49,000 customers in 33 towns in Delaware and Chester Counties. The company is pledging to keep the 200,000 current CWA customers’ rates flat for a decade. Make the deal, Essential Utilities Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin told Delaware Valley Journal in October, and “there will be no movement in what the customer pays.”
CWA and its allies call that pledge hollow and they point to communities like New Garden, Pa., where ratepayers say the sale of their wastewater system to Aqua led to soaring sewer bills. “Aqua is a lot of talk,” said Margo Woodacre, co-founder of KWA – Keep Water Affordable — in New Garden.
In September, the Commonwealth Court ruled 5-2 that the City of Chester controlled the CWA and its assets, despite a 2012 law that added additional governance of the CWA from Delaware and Chester Counties.
Now CWA can go to the Supreme Court and get a final ruling on the question of whether the authority is a stand-alone agency or a subset of the city. That is particularly important because the city is operating under state receivership due to its disastrous fiscal condition.
“We look forward to the opportunity to present our arguments to the court,” Catania said. “It’s very important that these issues be resolved.”
The organization Save CWA also released a statement:
“CWA appreciates that the PA Supreme Court acknowledges the significance of this issue. There is nothing more important than the public’s control over their Pennsylvania constitutionally-granted natural resources including their water. CWA also thanks their board, their employees, their ratepayers, the elected officials, and the public who keep this issue at the forefront.”
Aqua did not respond to a request for comment.