FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) – A third-party firm hired to audit southwest Fort Wayne water utility Aqua Indiana released its Phase II findings. In it, they call for Aqua Indiana to create a new master plan to address service challenges and safety concerns by October 1, 2013.
In a letter sent to Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns, Jim Atterholt, chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, says one of the chief concerns raised in the audit is water protection issues for Aboite Township area customers.
“While collecting information for the report, the auditor found there to be a potential fire protection risk. This is unacceptable and poses a concern for our agency,” Atterholt says.
Bruns says July’s peak water usage by customers amid the summer drought, which forced Aqua Indiana to hook up to Fort Wayne City Utilities, is the reason for the fire protection issues. He says that under normal circumstances, fire protection concerns would not have been raised.
“Under normal circumstances, that area would have been served by us off of our lines and would not have had a fire protection issue. It was only when they were connected to the city through a single eight inch line that there was some question about whether there would have been adequate fire protection had a fire insisted,” Burns says.
The report does say that Aqua Indiana properly responded to service and safety concerns during the drought by following on industry practices to hook up to the city. Where Aqua failed, according to the report, was in the long term or master planning that covers future infrastructure needs.
In mid-November, the City of Fort Wayne and members of 20 neighborhood associations announced and supported the move to condemn Aqua Indiana and attempt to take it over. The city made an identical move in the early 2000s with Aqua Indiana on the north side of Fort Wayne. A five-year court battle resulted in the City of Fort Wayne buying and taking over the utility.
Ted Nitza, program manager for City Utilities, says the findings in Phase II support the city’s move to condemn and take over Aqua Indiana.
“This phase two recommendations from the IURC that again documents that Aqua Indiana has failed to plan adequately for the future was no surprise to City Utilities, and again part of the reason why it's necessary to take more aggressive steps of moving forward with condemnation,” Nitza says.
He says the troubled utility has had plenty of time to either correct their issues or come to some sort of agreement on a cooperative effort with Fort Wayne City Utilities to provide water to some 12,000 customers in Aboite Township.
“They've had a number of opportunities a number of times over the past years and have invested significant amounts of money resulting in rate increases for those customers out in those areas and they've proven to be ineffective,” Nitza says.
Nitza does say there is still some room for joining forces to provide southwest customers with water but says the city will still move forward with condemnation.
Bruns says he hopes they can work out a deal.
“We'll be doing the master plan with an eye towards future growth and serving customers in that area. We'd like to figure out a way, if there is a way, to work with the city rather than going the condemnation route,” he says.
The city must present an ordinance to Fort Wayne City Council for condemnation of the utility. That must be approved. Then, the city will make a final purchase offer to Aqua Indiana. If no sale can be agreed upon, the case will be taken up court.
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