AQUA BACKS OUT OF SEWER SALE Aqua Pennsylvania no longer buying Norristown sewer system

NORRISTOWN — In an unexpected turn of events, Aqua Pennsylvania backed off a previously publicized deal to purchase the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority. 

“I can confirm that Aqua is no longer pursuing the acquisition of the Norristown wastewater system,” Donna Alston, Aqua America’s communications manager, told MediaNews Group Thursday evening. 

Representatives from the company and the municipality each corroborated the development Thursday, but neither offered further comments surrounding the circumstances leading up to the decision. 

This update comes just days after members of the Norristown Municipal Council unanimously authorized the advertisement of two ordinances that if approved, could repeal previously enacted actions related to the procedural efforts of the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority. 

The $82 million sale to the Pennsylvania company was initially approved in June.

Months later, the Norristown Municipal Sewer Authority board previously pressed pause on moving forward with the sale by tabling a resolution during an August meeting, according to David McMahon, a member of Norristown Opposes Privatization Efforts.

Two pieces of local legislation passed in a 5-2 vote during an October meeting with Vice President Rebecca Smith and Councilman Hakim Jones dissenting.

“I’m adamantly opposed to this. I’m gonna continue to be opposed to this,” Jones said in October. “I think the people should … have the say on whether or not this asset is sold to a private company.”

Ordinance 20-14 mandated that the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority “convey the sewer system and all property and assets of the authority to the municipality.”

Ordinance 20-15 essentially amended the “asset purchase agreement” to include the Municipality of Norristown, and Aqua Pennsylvania. The contract had previously listed the Norristown Municipal Sewer Authority.

Dozens of area residents, as well as those living outside the confines of the county seat, spoke out against the sale time and time again during a series of public meetings.

Others sought to take further action.

“The two ordinances were 2014 and 2015, and each one of them required 1,261 signatures of registered voters. We collected over 2,000 signatures for each one,” McMahon told MediaNews Group. “Both are well above the required amount, so that in itself makes a statement as far as broad support for a repeal.”

According to a municipal spokesman, community members garnered roughly 2,100 signatures for each petition, and they were submitted on Nov. 5.

McMahon praised the community’s participation efforts in this endeavor.

“This is a win for our friends and neighbors who thought there was nothing they could do about this sale, that it was a ‘done deal,’ and that they were powerless to affect any real change in their community especially going up against a national corporate power in the form of Aqua PA,” McMahon said in a statement Tuesday. “I am thankful to have met and worked with all those new friends and neighbors who have come together and persevered to stop this most recent local privatization effort.”

Norristown resident Rachel Fecho agreed.

“I’m heartened to see how the voice of many when working together can be more powerful than the seeming giant of a corporation, but Aqua is not the only private predator with its sights on the municipality, and a lot of work lies ahead for those of us who care about the future of Norristown, but we will tirelessly do whatever it takes to block privatization, and gentrification, and to seek sustainable ways of funding development and ensuring that development is in the interest of all Norristown’s diverse residents, future and current, and as always I love you Norristown,” she said Tuesday.

For both ordinances advertised during Tuesday’s meeting, Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones “certified that there were sufficient signatures on a petition to compel council to either repeal the ordinance o[r] create a referendum question.”

Jones read the action would “authorize the advertisement of Ordinance 20-21 for the repeal of Norristown Ordinance 20-14, which set forth the dissolution of the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority and to authorize the Municipal Administrator to take any and all actions necessary to resolve any litigation matters or remediate any other actions taken in accordance with Ordinance 20-14.”

Solicitor Patrick Hitchens, an attorney at Kilkenny Law, called the item a “housekeeping matter” during Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

“The sewer authority has an ongoing piece of litigation that in the event that they are not in fact dissolved would become moot, and so it’s just if council would want it would allow us to make sure that we can have that wrapped up and resolved as well,” he said.

“[The] motion to authorize the advertisement of Ordinance 20-22 for the repeal of Norristown Ordinances and 20-15 related to the conveyance of the sewer system of Aqua Pennsylvania Water, Inc., and to authorize the Municipal Administrator to take any and all actions necessary to resolve any litigation matters or remediate any other actions taken in accordance with Ordinance 20-15,” the ordinance states.

Councilman Hakim Jones, a longtime critic of the sale, expressed his appreciation to community members involved in the matter.

“I just wanted to take a minute to acknowledge the residents and the NOPE organization for the work and the tireless efforts around this issue Not a very attractive issue and not an easy issue,” Hakim Jones said. “I do think the community had an opportunity to get caught up to speed and learn about it and they definitely have a say to what’s happening right now.”

The next Norristown Municipal Council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 15.

This story was updated to include a breaking development surrounding the sale of the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority.