“More Bad News for Chris Christie” as Atlantic City Residents Fight for Safe Water
Residents of Atlantic City secured their say in water privatization efforts Tuesday as the City Council passed an ordinance requiring a public vote prior to any potential sale of the municipal water system.
“Tonight’s council vote is about people power defeating corporate power,” said Lena Smith, Food & Water Watch organizer. “It is a ringing endorsement of the work done by community members to save their water system from a corporate takeover.”
Community leaders organized and marched door-to-door to collect petition signatures. They fear the state will sell the water system to a private company that would raise costs, like in Bayonne, New Jersey, where water rates increased nearly 28 percent after private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and water company Suez took over Bayonne’s waterworks.
In May, a rule preventing the state from monetizing Atlantic City’s water works expired, leaving drinking water largely in the hands of Governor Chris Christie.
Residents of Atlantic City submitted 2,400 petition signatures. “We know the residents of Atlantic City do not want their public resources sold without their participation,” N.J. ACLU spokeswoman Allison Pelzman told the Philadelphia Inquirer about the petition in May.
The council voted 8–0 in favor of the ordinance. Councilman Aaron Randolph abstained, according to the Atlantic City clerk’s office. Randolph is an employee of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, which is in charge of the city’s drinking water.
“The time is now to ensure that Atlantic City’s prestigious water company stays in public hands,” New Jersey Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo wrote in a letter to executives at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority.
“Keeping the water company in public hands would…safeguard the quality of the water and avoid long-term rate hikes,” he wrote.
In November, Christie’s state takeover of the city sent bills skyrocketing when he outsourced public works to law firm Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi.
“This is more bad news for Chris Christie, who engineered the undemocratic takeover of Atlantic City,” Smith said. “The governor’s decision to shut down the state and turn a public beach into a private family getaway revealed, yet again, his attitude towards exploiting and mismanaging public resources.”
Over the Fourth of July weekend, New Jersey beaches were closed as part of a government shutdown. Christie visited one of the closed beaches, Island Beach State Park, with friends and family, drawing scorn.
Smith said she hopes the message is heard by the governor. “The residents of Atlantic City, and the city’s elected officials, are standing up to Christie and his corporate cronies to say: ‘Our water, our voice,’” she said.
The fight against water privatization in Atlantic City is the latest in a national trend of conservative Governors trying to regionalize and privatize water in order to take power away from cities—and ultimately people.