Friday, April 21, 2006

H2O: Deal . . . or No Deal?

On Tuesday the OD reported that the State Canal Corp. offered a "temporary resolution" of its dispute with the Mohawk Valley Water Authority, stemming from a violation of a 1917 Agreement. In return for certain payments, Canals would withdraw its objection to a permit that would allow the MVWA to expand its water system in Frankfort, Schuyler, Kirkland, and Westmoreland. "[I]t's a win-win situation" gushed Westmoreland Supervisor Sydoriw, and State Sen. Meier opined that the proposal was reasonable.

According to the OD, the deal was cooked up the previous Friday in a meeting between Canals, supervisors of the four towns, and state legislators. Apparently not invited were the MVWA; the Towns of New Hartford, Whitestown, Marcy, and Deerfield; the villages included in those towns; and the City of Utica.

Again, we witness another backroom deal that will benefit those who are politically connected (in this case, those who were invited to the conference) at the Expense of those excluded.

For every 1,000 gallons of water drawn, MVWA would pay 3 cents to Canals and 5.5 cents to Erie Boulevard Hydropower. Additionally, MVWA would have to pay Canals and the power company $1,000/day if it draws more than 20 million gallons a day (20MGD). Not mentioned is the fact that the MVWA already draws about 20 MGD, meaning the $1,000/day (which sounds like a penalty) will be charged almost every day.

Because of MVWA's "regional" structure, EVERY CUSTOMER OF THE MVWA no matter where they live will wind up paying for these charges. Most definitely a "win-win" situation if you are the Westmoreland Supervisor, or are a Senator trying to score points in bringing city water to those who don't have it. THIS IS TYPICAL ALBANY THINKING: SPEND SOMEONE ELSE'S MONEY. What about ALL the current MVWA customers in Utica, New Hartford, Whitestown, etc etc. - the people who will pay virtually the entire cost? They have no obligations to those who chose to live in the fringe areas. They get the shaft.

We found out on Wednesday that this "deal," after accounting for expected new revenue from the expansion areas, could cost the Water Authority up to $500,000.00 per year. According to Canals in a Sentinel article, this would cost the typical residential user 75 cents a month (or another $2.25 on your quarterly bill). Sorry, we pay enough already!

If the 4-town expansion is a Net-Loser, MVWA would be crazy to go through with it.


Now Ms. Mantello of Canals wants to "explain" the deal to MVWA at its meeting. Why the theatrics? Why not put the explanation in writing, including the justification for the charges, and make it public in advance of the meeting, so people can come prepared with questions?

MVWA goofed when it destroyed Gray Dam and got itself into this mess with Canals. MVWA has also been a tad arrogant with Canals and unwilling to negotiate. Regardless, MVWA's insolence is no excuse for the politicians and Canals to collude to pick the pockets MVWA's customers to benefit others.

MVWA can't expect to get away without paying something, and, unfortunately that is a price that we as customers will have to pay for its incompetence. It has seriously infringed on the rights of not only Canals, and the power companies, but all others who use Hinckley Lake because, as a third party beneficiary contract (ie for the People of NYS), all people should have a reasonable expectation that the 1917 Agreement would be complied with in perpetuity, as was its framers' intent. MVWA has increased Canals' exposure to lawsuits and Canals should somehow be compensated for this exposure.

Canals, however, needs to get real. What they demand needs to bear some relationship to the degree of harm they have suffered or will suffer by MVWA's non-compliance with the old agreement -- which seems to be minimal as MVWA's obligation to release water to Hinckley only involves at best a few days per year. Any harm caused or that will be caused in the future through increased withdrawals can probably be estimated mathematically. If Canals is serious about settling rather than playing politics, it needs to do the math to show how it is harmed.

Both sides should stop posturing and just settle the issue, once and for all. And, Please, do this in public and let us participate -- after all, WE are paying the bill.

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