Back in April 2020, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the City of Chester does not have the right to unilaterally sell the CWA. The Court ordered that any transfer of CWA assets must be conducted “in unison” by the three municipalities represented on the CWA board, which are the City of Chester, Delaware County and Chester County.
Now, the Commonwealth Court has reversed that Order, issuing a narrow ruling on the question of who can dissolve the CWA and finding that CWA ratepayers in Chester and Delaware Counties—who outnumber the City of Chester’s ratepayers by at least five times—have no say in the decision of whether to sell the CWA to a for-profit corporation like Aqua.
The September 16, 2021 decision was not unanimous.
Two Commonwealth Court judges dissented. The dissenting opinion, issued by Judge Wojcik and joined by Judge Cohn Jubelirer, points out that the General Assembly “recognized Chester and Delaware Counties as critical stakeholders in this water project and as representatives for their constituent ratepayers who, in this unique situation, outnumber the City’s ratepayers by ‘at least five times.’ . . . The growth and success of the water project has been built on the backs of the Counties’ ratepayers.”
The dissent went on to lambast the “upside-down logic” of the majority’s decision which “has the tail wagging the dog”: “Under the Majority’s statutory interpretation, the City would constitute a super-minority of the Authority’s board, with the ability to unilaterally ‘acquire the project’ and sell the Authority’s assets to pay the City’s debt, leaving the 79% majority of the Authority’s ratepayers living in the Counties and elsewhere, where the majority of the assets are actually located, holding the bag. The General Assembly could not have intended such an intolerable and absurd result.”
The dissent concluded: “It is patently unconscionable to permit the City to pay off its own municipal debt by selling the Authority’s assets that were paid for by its ratepayers, the vast majority of whom reside in the Counties and elsewhere. In fact, the General Assembly granted the Counties ‘seats at the table’ to prevent the City from looting the Authority, and using the sale of the Authority’s assets as its own municipal piggy bank, by enacting Section 5610(a.1).” (Emphasis added to quotations).
Click on the link below to read the Commonwealth Court’s majority and dissenting opinions.Dissenting-Opinion
In the words of the dissenting judges, the Commonwealth Court’s interpretation of the current law will lead to the “intolerable and absurd result” of the City of Chester having the power to unilaterally sell something it does not own. The CWA is now seeking an appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and many questions surrounding the attempt to sell the CWA will be returned to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas and will be litigated further.
But, as the Commonwealth Court decision shows us, litigation is simply not enough. As members of the public and ratepayers, we must increase pressure on all of our state lawmakers. “Waiting for the courts to decide” is no longer an excuse. Our lawmakers must take back the power for their people—now.
Support the bipartisan effort to save the CWA.
Tell your local lawmakers to:
- AMEND Act 12: the law should only apply to distressed water systems—not healthy systems like the CWA.
- PASS Representative Lawrence’s HB 97 (proposing a requirement of ratepayer approval prior to the sale a publicly managed utility in the Commonwealth, as seen in other states, including neighboring New Jersey)
- PASS Representative Sappey’s HB 144 and Senator Kane’s SB 452 (proposing a water ratepayer bill of rights allowing ratepayers to have the ability to voice issues they may have with a possible water utility acquisition).