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Harrisburg Assets Lead Would-Be Buyers to Line Up in Pennsylvania Capital

An incinerator that pushed Harrisburg (9661MF) into insolvency generated inquiries from five prospective buyers, while another five expressed interest in running the water and sewer systems serving Pennsylvania’s capital (9661MF).

The feelers about the waste-to-energy plant run by a Covanta Holding Corp. (CVA) unit and on other municipal assets were received by the Harrisburg Authority, which oversees the operations, according to documents posted today on the website of David Unkovic, the city’s receiver. The deadline to submit bidding qualifications was yesterday.

“Having five interested parties for each of the assets is a good development,” Unkovic said today by telephone. “It will lead to a good process.”

Selling or leasing assets is part of a plan from Unkovic, Pennsylvania’s first municipal receiver, to deal with more than $300 million in incinerator-related debt, five times the city’s general-fund budget. The community of 49,500 residents backed financing an overhaul of the power plant, which hasn’t produced enough revenue to cover the cost.

Cambridge Project Development Inc. of Miami; Interstate Waste Services Inc. of Ramsey, New Jersey; the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (26675MF) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; the National Water Fund; and Wheelabrator Technologies, a Hampton, New Hampshire-based unit of Waste Management Inc. (WM), submitted statements of qualifications related to the incinerator.

Water and Sewer

Aqua America Inc. (WTR) of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; CH2M Hill Inc. of Englewood, Colorado; Pennsylvania American Water Co., a Hershey, Pennsylvania-based unit of American Water Works Co.; U.S. Facilities Inc. of Philadelphia; and United Water, a Harrington, New Jersey-based affiliate of GDF Suez (GSZ), expressed interest in running the city’s water and sewer systems, according to the documents.

The parties weren’t required to say how much they may offer. The Lancaster County authority last year said it would pay $124 million for the incinerator, based on certain conditions.

The level of interest “bodes very well for the receiver’s plan and the strategy the receiver is taking,” said Bob Philbin, a spokesman for Mayor Linda Thompson, who supports the fiscal blueprint.

Winnowing Down Field

During the next two weeks, Unkovic will review the statements and determine which parties he will negotiate with, he said. The next step will involve a “smaller number” of would-be bidders, he said.

Firms interested in buying or leasing the city’s parking facilities must submit their qualifications to the agency overseeing them by March 12, and Unkovic said today that “interest is strong.” Once he knows the value of the assets, Unkovic has said that he will then determine how to tackle the remainder of the city’s debt. His plan for fiscal recovery must be approved by the state’s Commonwealth Court.

Unkovic expects to close any transactions by June, subject to court approval. State law bars the city from seeking bankruptcy court protection until July. A majority of the City Council sought unsuccessfully to take that step last year.

A bid to put Harrisburg into Chapter 9 proceedings was dismissed on Nov. 23 by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary D. France in Harrisburg. She said the filing wasn’t allowed under state law. The City Council is seeking to appeal that decision.

Council President Wanda Williams, city Controller Dan Miller and Treasurer John R. Campbell opposed asset sales or leases in a court filing Feb. 29. They said such privatization would give a “windfall to Wall Street” at the city’s expense.

To contact the reporter on this story: Romy Varghese in Philadelphia at rvarghese8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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