SPRINGFIELD — Dozens of people attended the first of two community sessions co-hosted by DELCORA and Aqua to answer questions and to share information about the potential merger of the two entities.
"A format like this gives people the opportunity to enter into a conversation on a particular topic whether it's environmental or rates or on every topic whether it's environmental, employees or customer service," Marc Lucca, president of Aqua Pennsylvania, said. "So really, it's an opportunity to share information, enter into a dialogue and hopefully when people leave, they'll have a more complete understanding of the process and a feeling that they're part of the process."
The Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority entered an exclusive six-week due diligence period with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater to consider a merger or acquisition on July 16. Last month, that was extended until Oct. 1 so DELCORA could get a better idea of costs to the ratepayers if a sale to Aqua is completed.
The 500,000-customer authority had been looking at ways to comply with a 2000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate that would required combined stormwater and sewage water lines that experience problems such as overflows during heavy rains to be fixed.
DELCORA officials have maintained that the costs facing the authority over the next 20 years, including compliance and other investments, would be approximately $1.2 billion.
Part of that cost is what DELCORA would owe Philadelphia for sharing part of its system. In 2013, DELCORA was told its cost would be $178 million. Four years later, it was told the cost had risen to $605 million.
About 20 Aqua employees and another 20 from DELCORA were on hand, either staffing one of the 21 placards or walking around talking to attendees.
"The focus," DELCORA spokesman Jay Devine said, "is to hear from the public and get their response and hopefully to educate them about the capital costs that DELCORA is facing and what's the rational for considering this merger with Aqua."
Among the concerns brought by the community was the impact a merger on rates.
"What brought me out here tonight is to find out, it's a shame to say it, is how they going to swipe us," Susan Dennis of Chester said. "We know that rates have to go up. That's OK. That's a given. But they don't have to be outrageous."
She said Aqua was saying rates would be stabilized over a 10-year period. "Nobody can predict over 10 years," she said, adding that once the company starts to separate the pipes to fix the infrastructure, the price will increase. "Then, that price is going to be passed onto us."
Yet, she was trying to be open-minded.
"I'm still skeptical," Dennis said. "I know something has to be done."
Cheryl E. Sudler of Chester brought her concerns as a homeowner, a landlord of three properties and as a community member, representing her elderly neighbors.
Sudler said it was important for her to get the information firsthand for those in her circles.
"I wanted to see what's going on," she said. "It seems that everything's for sale in Chester, Pa."
Fran and Jim Broadbent of Woodlyn said they attended because they just wanted to see what was going on with the DELCORA/Aqua situation, especially with the dynamic with Philadelphia.
"Hopefully, it's going to keep the rates down too," Jim Broadbent said. "Hopefully this will sustain DELCORA and Aqua together so there isn't that big increase."
Laird Shively of Brookhaven was curious how a merger or acquisition would impact the smaller authorities.
"Does this also mean that Southwest Delaware County Municipal Authority will no longer exist?" he asked. He also wanted to know if the bill would remain the same.
Another session is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Chester Community Charter School's East Campus at 214 E. Fifth St. in Chester.