Updated Tuesday, Jan. 19
A panel of administrative law judges has recommended that the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission toss out the pending $276.5 million sale and resulting privatization of Delaware County’s wastewater system, known as DELCORA, to Aqua Pennsylvania.
The PUC must sign off on the sale, and the panel’s recommendation is considered likely to carry weight in the final decision.
The two-judge panel cited Aqua Pennsylvania’s failure to establish how the deal benefits the public, the legality of the agreement, and the absence of a rate-stabilization plan in the application as reasons for its decision.
The deal has long been at the center of a political feud in Delco — it was made in 2019, when the County Council was under Republican control.
Since taking office in 2020, the current all-Democratic council has gone to great lengths to halt the sale, which brought the unresolved acquisition into a court battle — a case the county recently lost.
“The whims of politics or changing county administrations do not waive away legally enforceable binding contracts. The reliance and predictability of valid legal contracts is paramountly important and serves public policy,” Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Barry Dozor wrote in the order.
However, with time left to appeal and a favorable recommendation from the administrative law judges, the tide may be turning for the county.
“The county will be making a decision about an appeal of the Common Pleas decision by the Jan. 27 deadline,” county solicitor William Martin said in a statement. “This decision from the PUC confirms the county’s concerns about the questionable legality of the structure of the deal, and the lack of public benefit.”
In a statement the day of the decision, DELCORA officials said, “While DELCORA is disappointed by the administrative law judge’s recommendation, it is just that — a recommendation. DELCORA respectfully disagrees with its reasoning and conclusion especially in light of the overwhelmingly positive public support expressed during the Sept. 16 public input hearings. DELCORA will work to clear the concerns raised by the recommendation and file exceptions prior to the full Public Utility Commission (PUC) consideration in March. We remain extremely confident that we will be able to clear the concerns prior to coming before the PUC and ensure an appropriate record is presented, leading to a positive PUC decision.”
DELCORA serves roughly 165,000 people across 42 towns in Delaware and Chester counties. Aqua Pennsylvania currently manages 37 wastewater treatment plants throughout the state, which amounts to about 35,000 customers. The company also provides water service to a large swath of suburban Philadelphia.
If approved, the deal would be the largest privatization of a water or wastewater system in Pennsylvania. The PUC says it will issue a final decision by March 26.
This article was updated to include a statement from DELCORA.
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