Regional Smart Growth Concerns With the LCA-Allentown Lease
The City of Allentown chose Lehigh County Authority (LCA) as the top bid in a lengthy process to lease the city’s water and wastewater system for 50 years. Whether you like the lease scenario or not, LCA will be taking over control of the Allentown water system by August 2013. This large deal is meant to assist Allentown with its large legacy obligation, a grave financial problem many other municipalities are also facing. Is the lease perfect? No. Are there some real concerns about the environmental impact, given both LCA and Allentown’s history with overflow in the Lehigh River and Little Lehigh Creek? Yes. Are there also real concerns about how this lease will assist the city with its debt obligations? Again, yes, but there is a lot of opportunity to make this work for the region.
Now Renew Lehigh Valley has been involved with LCA and the City of Allentown for a number of years discussing the possibility of consolidating the two systems to realize efficiencies, cost savings, and other benefits of regional consolidation. Though the current deal did not come about as we had hoped, it certainly is an opportunity to once again review the possibilities for and benefits of regional consolidation of water and wastewater systems in the Lehigh Valley. Did you know there are more than three dozen water and wastewater authorities in our two-county region? RenewLV developed a series of “Guiding Principles” as we moved through the water and wastewater discussions. (You can read our Guiding Principles on our website.) In accordance with these principles, RenewLV did support LCA as a public option during the lease discussions because a public authority with public oversight provides the opportunity for further regional collaboration of systems; whereas, a private entity would have taken that option off the table.
Since LCA now has the bid and the wheels are turning with the transfer getting underway, RenewLV does have some concerns about the lease and LCA and Allentown’s practices over the course of that lease. I attended one of the public meetings LCA held to inform the public and answer questions. Unfortunately, the turnout was disappointing, given the population of Allentown and the size of LCA’s service area. That said, I think it was an important first step by LCA to begin a dialogue with the public throughout this process. Some information about the transfer of billing and other details for the consumer were shared. Open, transparent conversation between the public, LCA, and the City of Allentown must be maintained in order for this lease to be successful and an effective model for other regional consolidation (albeit, under slightly different circumstances– sans the financial implications of a lease.) The following is a summary of some of RenewLV’s concerns and recommendations with this lease. A full copy of the position paper can be found on our website.
- All monies received by the City of Allentown from the LCA under this lease must be kept in a Restricted Fund for the sole purpose of paying for Pension Costs
- Adopt sustainable practices for water resource management
- Undertake regional water services planning, cooperative projects among water systems, and consolidation of systems
- Prioritize the use of existing water system assets over the creation of new infrastructure
- Encourage water and sewer infrastructure projects that promote revitalization of older communities (cities and boroughs)
- Prohibit projects that contribute to suburban sprawl
- Apply best practices for the environmental stewardship of our watersheds
- Transparent and inclusive stakeholder and community engagement by the LCA and Allentown in providing access to materials and public meetings