Mayor Henry Says Aqua’s Time is Up

By Max Resnik

July 17, 2012 Updated Jul 17, 2012 at 6:19 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Mayor Tom Henry (D) says Aqua Indiana, the water utility embroiled in controversy over its services and water pressure amid the drought, has reached its drop-dead date and that a resolution must be achieved now.

Last week, Aqua Indiana sat before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in Indianapolis at a public hearing to address concerns raised by Aqua customers. While the timetable for a resolution by the IURC is unclear, the Henry Administration says the utility’s drop-dead date is now.

“I think that drop-dead date is right now. I think we’ve been patient. The citizens of Southwest Fort Wayne have been patient. Seventy percent of their customers out southwest are citizens of the City of Fort Wayne. They deserve the same type of water that the rest of our citizens enjoy—at the same price, at the same dependability and I think it's time for Aqua to step up and say, "We're ready to negotiate."'

Henry says a team from his administration and a team from Aqua have met repeatedly to determine the best solutions for customers on the city’s southwest side. Henry says there are a few specific short term and long term solutions he could see for Aqua customers.

Henry says that in the short term, the utility can purchase water from Fort Wayne City Utilities at wholesale prices and then provide that water at retail prices to customers to ensure water pressure needs are met during the drought.

“If they were just to buy water from the city, on a wholesale basis, and then turn around and service their customers, the customers would get what we want the citizens of Fort Wayne to have. And that is good, quality water, a dependable service of water, water with good pressure and at a fair price.”

Thinking long term, Mayor Henry offers three options. First, he says Aqua and the City of Fort Wayne could pursue a joint venture. Under a mutual service agreement, Aqua would still own the utility but would buy water from the city.

The second long term option would be the future acquisition of the utility, something Henry says is costly. He says it would also take time for attorneys on both sides to put together a mutually beneficial agreement.

The last long term possibility, one Mayor Henry hopes the city will not have to pursue, is condemning the utility and taking it over. It would be a similar move to one made on the north side of the city in 2007 and 2008. Henry says going to court and fighting to condemn the utility could take up to five years. It is a move, however, that the administration is considering.

“To move towards some type of condemnation of the facility based upon the fact that they are not meeting the requirements necessary for a utility to run, to provide good, quality water with adequate pressure at fair prices. And I think we could take that and make a case similar to what we did out north.”

In response to Mayor Henry's comments, Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns released the following statement:

“Aqua values its positive, cooperative relationship with City Utilities and the City of Fort Wayne. We appreciate their cooperation in responding to the “perfect storm” of extremely unusual circumstances that resulted in a brief period of low water pressure for some customers, but the small amount of water they’re providing today is simply not necessary in normal conditions. Utilities across the state are taking unprecedented steps to cope with the drought, and we’re continuing our solution-focused discussions with the City.”

Henry says many the 1,250 Aqua customers currently hooked up to the city’s system have asked to remain with the city.

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