Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Atlantic City, NJ passed an ordinance banning the corporate takeover of public water Wednesday.

Atlantic City, NJ passed an ordinance banning the corporate takeover of public water Wednesday. (Photo: Jeff Turner/Flickr/cc)

'People Power Defeating Corporate Power': Atlantic City Says People Have Say Over Their Water

"A ringing endorsement of the work done by community members to save their water system from a corporate takeover."

Atlantic City, New Jersey's city council on Tuesday easily passed an ordinance that requires a public vote before any sale of the municipal water system by the state.

The 8-0 vote, according to Lena Smith of Food and Water Watch, "is about people power defeating corporate power. It is a ringing endorsement of the work done by community members to save their water system from a corporate takeover."

According to the advocacy group, the new city ordinance should be seen as "a direct challenge to the state takeover of Atlantic City engineered by [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie." That takeover was enacted last November.

The takeover legislation is the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, the group explained, and was designed to give "the state broad powers, including the ability to sell off the prized water system to private water corporations with deep connections to leaders in both major political parties."

Residents saw what was at stake, however, and the AC Citizens United Against the State Takeover campaign led a petition drive delivering over 2,400 signatures to the City Clerk's office saying they wanted a say in a potential takeover of their water.

For some residents, a fear of the water crisis playing out in Flint, Michigan helped fuel their support for the ordinance. In fact, then-NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, who called the state takeover a "profound injustice," said in April that Flint was "a moral parable about the peril of giving up control of your water."

As Kate Aronoff wrote at In These Times:

Atlantic City now has clean, drinkable tap water. But resident and activist Charles Goodman warns, "If a private company comes in, that which happened in Flint could happen here."

Another concern for residents is cost. Atlantic City residents pay far less for water than their neighbors in adjacent towns. A recent study from Food & Water Watch found that New Jersey residents who get their water through private utilities pay an average of $230 more per year than those with public utilities. That's a big part of why Atlantic City residents like Goodman tend to oppose selling the MUA off to the highest bidder—and why the City Council hasn't done it already.

Whether the ordinance will take effect, however, is unclear.

The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act, as reports, not only gives the state the power to sell off the municipal water system but "also states that any referendum voted on by the citizens of Atlantic City would be nonbinding, a provision of the takeover law that civil rights attorneys say clashes with other state laws and are prepared to challenge."

Still, Food & Water Watch is optimistic, saying: "Governor Christie and his appointed overseer could simply veto the Council's new law, a move that would show a blatant disregard for the public will. But it doesn't end there. This would simply send the question to the ballot for a citywide vote, giving the citizens the chance to override Christie."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

MSNBC Declines to Voluntarily Recognize Newsroom Union Effort

Organizers said that "we want to support one another and make this an even better place to build a career."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·

Sanders Speaks Out Against 'Dangerous' Chorus Pushing for New Cold War With China

"Developing a mutually beneficial relationship with China will not be easy," the senator writes. "But we can do better than a new Cold War."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

Indigenous Women Invite Deb Haaland to See Devastation of Line 3 for Herself

The tar sands project "poses a significant threat to water, Indigenous treaty rights, and worsens the global climate crisis," the group wrote to Biden's Interior Secretary.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·

After SCOTUS Upholds ACA, Progressives Set Sights on Medicare for All

Now, said campaigner Michael Lighty, "we can instead go to a system that will actually guarantee healthcare to everybody, which the ACA does not do and cannot do."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·

McConnell Makes Clear 'All Republicans Will Oppose' Manchin Voting Rights Compromise

"The idea that Manchin can pass a law to protect the vote with help from the very people it needs protecting from is suspect at best."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·