A Delaware County judge on Thursday blocked the county’s takeover of the independent public wastewater authority, the object of an escalating legal and political brawl between Democrats and Republicans.
Common Pleas Court Judge Barry C. Dozor granted a temporary stay blocking the takeover of the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority, or DELCORA, just hours after the county council voted formally Wednesday night to dissolve the authority.
The judge set a hearing for June 18 to hear arguments on DELCORA’s lawsuit alleging that the county takeover is illegal. The sewer authority filed the request for the preliminary injunction on Monday, ahead of the council vote.
The county’s new Democratic-led council last month began moves to take over DELCORA in order to halt its pending $276.5 million sale to private operator Aqua Pennsylvania, which the authority orchestrated last year before local Republicans were voted out of office. Democrats said the sale of the 136-employee authority was “an overtly political and backhanded deal” aimed at preserving Republican jobs and rewarding Aqua Pennsylvania, a GOP political donor.
DELCORA, which serves 165,000 customers in 42 towns in Delaware and Chester Counties, sued to block the county’s effort, saying it was not permitted under state law. DELCORA also alleged the county’s effort was a “money grab” to acquire control of the proceeds from the utility sale, which Aqua says it still plans to pursue under a signed sales agreement. Under the authority’s proposal, money from the sale would pay off its debt and fund rate relief for customers.
The Democrats say their aim is to stop the sale to Aqua and keep the wastewater authority under public ownership. The sale has not yet closed and is pending approval by Pennsylvania utility regulators.
The council voted 4-0 Wednesday night to approve the takeover in a teleconferenced meeting that was interrupted as a major storm passed through the area, disconnecting some council members during the debate.