After Towamencin Supervisors say they intend to move forward with sewer sale, residents push back again

Towamencin residents spoke for an hour of public comment, mostly urging the supervisors to respect the people’s vote.

A man talks in front of a group of people standing under an open pavilion outdoors.

File photo: Kofi Osei, Towamencin resident and NOPE founder, talking with township residents about home rule charter. (Courtesy of NOPE)

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Towamencin Township supervisors said they intend to follow through with the sale of their sewer system to Pennsylvania American Water, even after township residents voted to pass a law that forbids it in an effort to stop the sale in its tracks.

The public pushed back on Wednesday night at the Board of Supervisors meeting with an hour of public comments from over 20 residents against the sale, and just one in favor.

Speakers urged supervisors to respect the vote of residents, and expressed fear over rising sewer rates once the public utility is lost to a private entity.

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“Is ignoring the will of the people the best outcome for Towamencin and its residents?” Asked resident Vanessa Gaynor.

Residents voted in May to pass the new local law that forbids the sale of the township’s water, wastewater, and stormwater public utilities to private entities. That law, called a Home Rule Charter, is similar to a local constitution and goes into effect on July 1.

Despite the vote, the Towamencin Board of Supervisors said in a May 25 statement that they plan to proceed with the sewer system sale to Pennsylvania American Water for $104 million.

Pennsylvania American Water raised rates for customers by 14% this year, and initially proposed a 24% rate hike. The company says its yearly average rates are $1,272, and Towamencin’s current annual sewer rate is $450. But resident Kofi Osei, founder of the group Towamencin NOPE (Neighbors Opposing Privatization Efforts), estimates rates will be $1,550 a year in Towamencin if the system is sold, based on average water usage statistics from the North Penn Water Authority.

“The Township legal team does not believe the passage of the Home Rule Charter negates the sewer sale under current Pennsylvania law and the Pennsylvania Constitution. There is strong legal precedent against overturning pre-existing contracts based on the passage of new laws,” the board of supervisors said.

The board said the deal is pending approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), a state agency that will “determine whether the transaction is in the public interest.”

Joyce Snyder, the sole supervisor who voted against the sale and first Democrat elected to the board since 1992, said in a statement to WHYY News on Thursday, “I truly wish that the other supervisors would listen to our neighbors and terminate the Asset Purchase Agreement as mandated by the Home Rule Charter which becomes effective July 1st.”

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Township supervisors who support the sale did not respond to WHYY News’ requests for comment.

The supervisors voted 4-1 in March to re-assign the contract to Pennsylvania American Water after NextEra backed out of the sale. Officials posted FAQs about the sale and explanations for why it believes selling would benefit residents, including eliminating township debt and funding for new infrastructure projects.

Towamencin NOPE, the local grassroots organization leading the charge against the sale, is prepared for a fight. Founder Osei said residents could sue the township if the board doesn’t comply. A judge would then be left to decide if the township has to follow the charter.

Organizers believe the charter gives them legal grounds to stop the sale before the deal is approved by the PUC.

Geraldine DiLisi, a Towamencin resident of 50 years, has been actively opposing the sale since 2022. She said she attended town halls, supported the formation of the Government Study Commission (which wrote the Home Rule Charter), and circulated petitions in her neighborhood to get the charter question on the 2023 ballot.

When supervisors voted in March to pass the contract to Pennsylvania American Water, DiLisi said it was the most distressing moment of her year of activism. She added that residents pleaded to hold off the vote until after the May primary election.

“I felt that Chuck Wilson, Rich Marino, Kristin Warner, and Laura C. Smith sold the residents of Towamencin Township down the river,” DiLisi said.

“And here we are tonight, four of our five supervisors are digging their heels in and still not listening to the residents of Towamencin township. Hopefully, in the end, democracy will prevail.”

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