All of a sudden water is a very hot topic in the city of Chester.
Residents are worried that their beloved, privately held water company might be sold to a private mega firm.
And the city is looking to take steps to rectify long-standing stormwater problems.
Both stories have a common link and it’s not that they are all wet.
Both situations could end up costing residents big bucks.
This all started back in May, when the Chester Water Authority, which serves more than 42,000 customers in Delaware and Chester County – including 17 of Delco’s 49 municipalities – received an unsolicited bid from water giant Aqua America.
Chester Water Authority dates back to 1866, when it first started delivering sparkling, pristine water from the Susquehanna River and the Octoraro Reservoir on the Chester-Lancaster County border, piping it all the way to Delaware County.
The board rejected the bid. It heard from many of the municipalities served, all of whom spoke out forcefully against any sale. It’s not hard to figure out why. A glance at the rates paid by Chester Water Authority customers as opposed to those served by Aqua show what a bargain residents are receiving now. Their fear is that a sale would be accompanied by rate hikes.
Then a few weeks back a new bit of intrigue began to form. It became apparent that the city of Chester, as well as the state agency overseeing its finances under Act 47, which has labeled Chester a “distressed” city, had more than a passing interest in funds from a possible sale as a way out of their fiscal troubles.
The city is under state mandate to show they are making “progress” in balancing the books, or face the possibility of being placed in receivership. Funds from the sale of the water authority would go a long way to that goal.
In the meantime, Chester Water Authority, through its solicitor, would like to know just how much communication has been going on between the city, the state agency, and Aqua about any possible sale.
It’s the old who knew what and when, and the authority is still seeking answers.
In the meantime, city residents were less than thrilled to learn of some more water woes, in the form of a new stormwater fee flapped on them by a spanking new city Stormwater Authority.
The city used grant money to set up the authority, with the idea of attacking the city’s longtime stormwater problems, not unusual in an aging city with dated infrastructure.
The grant was used to get the authority up and running, but the tab would likely be picked up by city residents and businesses.
The authority rolled out a calculation that would amount to about $15 bucks a month for most city residents. But it could be a lot more for businesses and those with larger properties that include a lot of impervious space where water does not seep through into the ground.
Suffice it say a lot of residents were not thrilled with that prospect.
So great was the outcry that Stormwater Authority Chairman the Rev. Horace Strand, a longtime environmental activist in the city, announced plans for a public meeting to discuss the new fee, with the likelihood that the plans could be scaled back and the fee possibly rolled back from monthly to quarterly.
A meeting to discuss the new fee is set for Dec. 1 at Chester City Hall. It is open to residents.
Expect the place to be packed, just as the recent meetings of the Chester Water Authority have been very popular affairs, with CWA workers and rate payers showing up to offer their thoughts on any possible sale. Take our word for it, they were not in favor of it.
Strand and his new authority can probably expect a similar reaction when it comes to the new monthly fee.
Troubled waters? Yep, they flow through Chester.