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Water Barons Lose Another One

Sept. 24, 2004

Water Barons Lose Another One

Massachusetts Community Rejects Privatization Scheme

LEE, Mass. – Corporate proponents of privatizing public water systems suffered yet another blow last night when the town representatives of Lee, Mass., voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposal from Veolia Water to take control of the public water and wastewater system.   The loss is yet another setback for the big water companies, Public Citizen said today.

Lee town representatives voted 41-10 against granting Veolia a 20-year monopoly contract. The vote came on the heels of dynamic grassroots organizing in the Lee community, particularly in recent weeks.

“The Lee vote is also another example of how profiteering water corporations can be kept at bay by an informed, engaged citizenry,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Water for All Program.  “Lee’s rejection of privatization serves as a lesson for other small communities that might be targeted by the big water companies, and is also an inspiration to citizens in those communities who know that water should not be ceded to private interests for profit.”

Serious concerns were raised about Veolia’s track record in other communities; the company’s effort to push the scheme through establishing financial ties with powerful community leaders; doubts that Veolia’s promised savings, even if achieved, warranted the risks of privatization; and the reliability of the company’s promise that current system employees would be retained and treated fairly.

“Veolia Water used every trick in their big-money bag to lure the town of Lee and lost,” said Deidre Consolati, a Lee town resident who helped spearhead opposition to the privatization scheme. “We must remain vigilant that international water and sewer corporations like Veolia don’t knock on other doors in the region. The Lee vote came at a pivotal moment — this community won big and is now prepared to help turn back similar grabs in Massachusetts and New England.”

The concerns that led to Veolia’s rejection in Lee are similar to concerns that have led to the rejection of privatization in cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Hamilton, Ontario, and East Cleveland, Ohio. They are the same concerns that have prompted citizens to fight privatization in Stockton, Calif., Indianapolis,   Angelton, Texas, and Village of Hempstead, N.Y.

“Veolia’s failure to land a contract in Lee, after lobbying the community for four years, is a huge setback for corporate water’s cynical strategy to privatize water systems in smaller towns,” said Hauter.   “The citizens of Lee have spoken loud and clear.  Small towns won’t be bullied by big water companies.”