ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) — The City of Binghamton Council voted along party lines Wednesday to approve a contract with Veolia to perform a maintenance assessment of the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Wastewater Treatment Plant.
In addition to Binghamton and the Village of Johnson City, the plant serves several other localities.
Hours before the meeting Wednesday, the council’s Republican majority sent out a press release indicating its four council members had come to an agreement with Mayor Rich David to forge a consensus on passing the proposal.
The resolution approved by the council gives the mayor authority to enter into a contract with Veolia to review operations at the sewage plant and recommend future maintenance for the facility.
Councilman Gio Scaringi, a Republican, addressed the council uninterrupted for about 50 minutes as he explained his deliberative process and discussions with David. Previously, Scaringi explained, he was not in favor of awarding the contract to Veolia.
His two primary concerns dealt with the time employees had to finish and become more proficient at using recently installed equipment at the plant and the still-outstanding proposals to privatize the facility. Veolia and other firms had bid to privately manage the plant in 2019, and Scaringi said he was concerned the proposed maintenance assessment would act as a sort of vehicle to re-ignite that process.
“I will not stand for a necessary assessment for us investing in our assets, investing in our employees, investing in our people to be used as a modem for privatization,” Scaringi said. “I will not stand for it.”
He indicated that David said notice would be given to all privatization bidders that the process is closed.
“We have agreed to formally end the private management discussions in favor of this assessment and continued evaluation of maintenance efforts,” David wrote in the press release sent before Wednesday’s meeting.
That statement also noted that Veolia had agreed to push back the start date for the maintenance assessment to mid June.
Democrats on the council criticized the mayor for not including them in the discussions surrounding the contract.
“Where’s the documentation outside of a press release that says that has been closed officially? Where is the information that we should have as council people moving into a business meeting outside of a press release to know what kind of conversations have been had?,” asked Councilwoman Angela Riley. “So I, like the community, feel as if I’ve been left out of a conversation.”
Over 25 people spoke opposing the project during the public comment period. They expressed a number of concerns, including Veolia’s involvement in the Flint, Michigan water crisis and suspicion whether the firm would be critical of the performance of its own equipment at Binghamton’s plant. Representatives from Veolia attended a council work session Monday refuted the claims it played a part in Flint’s lead crisis.
The debate over the contract has consumed the council for much of the last month. Multiple votes on the matter were delayed.