BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Nov 11 (Reuters) - The indebted sewer
system at the center of Alabama's Jefferson County's bankruptcy
is drawing early interest from Wall Street firms and could be
bought once it sheds its debt burden, an investor whose company
runs the pension fund of state employees said.
David Bronner, the CEO of the $29 billion Retirement
Systems of Alabama, said several Wall Street firms called him
to inquire about buying the system, one day after the county
filed for bankruptcy in the biggest municipal bankruptcy in
They called Bronner seeking advice given his expertise in
the system's finances, he said.
Bronner, who is best known for buying a big stake in US
Airways Group and briefly becoming its chairman in 2003,
himself talked about buying the sewer system in 2008, only to
have his overtures rebuffed by county commissioners.
He said the sewer system generates over a $100 million a
year in revenue even though it is crippled by a $3.14 billion
debt that played a critical role in the decision to file for
"I have had three or four calls from Wall Street. At this
stage, it is investment bankers. They are always looking for a
deal," Bronner told Reuters on Thursday.
"Anything that goes into bankruptcy that has a large
revenue (stream) is attractive (and) if you remove the debt it
is a viable institution," he said.
"There will be other people who look at it and will buy it.
They will see if they can flip it in two or three years. It
depends on the debt," Bronner added.
Jefferson County's decision to file for bankruptcy on
Wednesday followed a three-and-a-half year struggle to avoid
filing for Chapter 9.
The decision, which came just when a final deal with
creditors looked close, took most observers by surprise but
commissioners said they concluded they would never reach a
One senior county official rated the sewer system's assets
at around $2 billion, despite its debts, and argued that it
could be a good buy at anything less than $1.6 billion.
NOT FOR SALE - YET
The system is not currently up for sale.
The county will present a plan to creditors for a
settlement to its overall financial situation and that will
lead to talks that could last a year or more.
Talks that ultimately broke down this week on settling the
debt did, however, include a proposal that could have led to
the sewer system's ultimate sale.
Under a framework deal in September, Alabama's state
legislature would have been asked to approve the establishment
of an independent public corporation, called a Governmental
Utility Services Corporation (GUSC), that would have taken
control of the system.
State Governor Robert Bentley did not call the special
session of Alabama's legislature needed to ratify the GUSC and
in the end the deal fell through.
The reason for the GUSC arrangement was to enable Jefferson
County to raise new debt to refurbish its sewer system in a
market leery of issuing bonds to a county that has become a
byword for bond trouble.
But a GUSC could also have paved the way for sale, one
county official said.
Because of the extreme political sensitivity of the issue,
it is unclear whether county commissioners would support the
eventual sale of the system, in large part due to suspicion
that any buyer would simply raise already sky-high sewer
Asked whether the county would sanction a sale of the sewer
system, commissioner Joe Knight said: "Could we? Maybe. Would
we? Probably not, not at this point in time."
But he added it would depend on the advice of bankruptcy
(Reporting by Matthew Bigg; Additional reporting by Verna
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