Court rules United Water must disclose desalination spending

A recent US court ruling has forced utility, United Water, to disclose documents detailing more than half the US$ 60 million it has spent on its desalination proposal for Rockland County, New York State. The documents include the particulars of how the money was spent including vendor invoices and limited information on project bidders.

The decision about documents covering about US$ 38 million of expenditure was released by state administrative law judge Kevin J Casutto. “The company’s claims of potential competitive injury are general and speculative,” Casutto’s ruled.

Opponents have long questioned the proposed desalination plant in West Haverstraw and the costs United Water was incurring on it. The decision will setback United’s plans to to pass the US$ 56 million in pre-construction costs and US$ 4 million in interest payments on to customers while keeping its records of the costs confidential. United said the records included trade secrets, sensitive market data and confidential legal information subject to attorney-client privilege.

But the judge concluded United did not prove the information could give them a competitive advantage that would characterize the data as a trade secret or that any confidentiality agreement existed with vendors.

Casutto concluded: “The company has failed to explain how disclosure of the contested records would result in substantial competitive injury. Therefore, the contested records are not excepted from disclosure as confidential competitive information.”
Casutto also ruled that United’s contested legal documents were not protected under attorney-client or work product privilege.

County legislative chairman and water resource management task force member, Alden Wolfe, said the ruling was a step forward, but that United was still holding back critical spending information.

United’s desal project suffered several setbacks. In May, the State Public Service Commission determined Rockland’s water situation was not yet dire and recommended the company postpone plans to build the plant until at least 2020.