The Queens Borough Water Supply
The water companies of Queens Borough were naturally interested in the bill vetoed by the Governor which was intended to prevent municipalities from extending their mains into territories occupied by the private corporations, and it seems to them only fair that they should have such a measure protecting their property enacted into law. At a meeting of the New York City Club last week Henry De Forest Baldwin, president of the Queens County Water Company, made a statement which places his side of the case in a very favorable light. He said: In the controversy over the Maier bill the real point at issue should not be lost sight of and that is whether water companies are to be subject to the confiscation of the whole or of a part of their property at the will of the local authorities in the territories they serve. The only protection they have to-day is the force of public opinion in their localities. The law does not prevent a municipality from paralleling the distribution system of an existing water works. Most of the water companies in Queens County were organized before consolidation and have felt secure in the faith that a city like New York, which is the market for the securities of similar enterprises located all over the country, would never be induced by local clamor to resort to paralleling their distribution systems. For the most part they took an antagonistic position toward the attempts on the part ol consumers in various parts of the State to provide for the regulation of their rates by a State Commission. This year it appeared quite clearly that some legis lation of that character was likely to be enacted, and seevral of ….. the companies supported the bill in the Legislature which had been approved by the Conservation Commission. They were particularly interested in that provision of the act which placed in the hands of the commission which was to regulate their rates the authority to determine the propriety and necessity of subjecting them to competition. It is difficult to see how a commission could rgulatc rates if it were not clothed with power to protect. The reasonableness of a rate depends upon the chance of being able to continue as a going concern. The Conservation Commission now exercises a supervision over the city’s operations as to its source of supply, as a part of the scheme which led to its creation, to have a State-wide plan, which involves a State-wide control, for water supply and sewage disposal. The Maier bill does not increase State interference with the city’s administration of its lant, except to the extent of requiring the tate Commission’s consent before it can parallel the mains of an existing water works company, and it was a great surprise that the city authorities should base opposition on the ground that they should be permitted to practically confiscate the property of the existing companies. This makes the present situation a matter of supreme importance to every public service corporation in the State. The action of the Governor upon this bill will determine the policy of the State. The position of the city officials is that because the city has invested a large sum of money in establishing its Catskill water supply plant it should not be interfered with by the State authority in working its will with the water works enterprises which have heretofore supplied a large part of Queens County and in which the savings of many people to the extent of more than $13,000,000 have been invested. Justice can only be administered by a court or a board clothed with real judicial functions, such as the Conservation Commission in this case. If the rights of these companies are to be subject to the arbitrary action of local officials they are not getting justice whatever the result may be. Their rights will be determined largely by the feelings o’f the local officials and the influences which surround them. The terms upon which their property is to be acquired becomes a political question and not a case of right and justice. The public utterances of some of the officials of New 1 ork City illustrate how difficult it is in trying to be effective to be fair or even correct, and howeasy it is to fall into misleading statements, calculated to give a wrong impression, and which come dangerously near being mendacious. For instance, one of them was reported as saying that the city is now paying $800,000 a year to private water companies, who now seek a monopoly in perpetuity in the territory they serve, unless the city buys them out on their own terms. It may not be untrue to say of any owner of property that he seeks to hold on to it unless he can be induced to part with it on his own terms. But if the statements were that there is something in this bill which would tend to enable the companies to enjoy a monopoly in perpetuity unless the city buys them out on their own terms, such a statement certainly would be untrue. There is nothing in this bill that prevents the city from condenming these properties, and in condemnation there is awarded no more than the fair and reasonable value as determined by a judicial tribunal. There is nothing in .the bill which enables the companies to demand purchase by condemnation or otherwise, for if the State Commission thought it was proper it might permit the city to parallel the lines of existing water works companies. The companies are not afforded absolute protection, but only protection from the public officers who have threatened to make their plants “old junk.” The statement, if made, that the companies are seeking a monopoly in perpetuity unless bought on their own terms, is therefore calculated to mislead to the end that the property rights of others may be thereby injured. If thecity is paying $800,000 a year to private water companies it must be obvious that a considerable investment was required to enable them to render such valuable service. The only protection this bill affords them is that when it comes to settling their rights, if it is necessary for the city to deal with them, that question shall be settled as a judicial question by a commission, who are expected to act judicially and not as partisans.