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Aqua Indiana seeks accommodation

Aqua Indiana was surprised by Mayor Tom Henry’s recent announcement of his intent to forcibly take over ownership of Aqua’s water system in Aboite Township.

Just a couple of months ago, Aqua and City Utilities were engaged in conversations we hoped would result in a cooperative effort to make the most efficient use of the significant investments both parties have made in water and waste- water infrastructure in southwest Allen County.

It’s important for the entire Fort Wayne community to understand that the mayor’s drive to acquire Aqua through condemnation will be a complicated and expensive legal process costing millions of dollars. Even if successful, it could cost the city in excess of $60 million to actually buy the system.

And most puzzling is the mayor’s surprising announcement coming before there has been a resolution concerning the price that the city will have to pay to Aqua for the city’s condemnation of Aqua’s utility in northern Fort Wayne four years ago.

How is it equitable for the city to commit millions of dollars to a questionable action that affects only 12,000 households and has no practical benefit for the remaining 86 percent of the city’s population? And why does the mayor think it’s a good idea to remove a significant taxpayer from the city and township tax rolls?

There simply is no crisis or emergency that justifies such a huge, expensive power grab now – or at any time.

The brief period of low pressure in Aqua’s system during the extreme drought of last summer was the result of a “perfect storm” combination of events. In response, Aqua partnered with City Utilities to activate a pre-existing connection between water systems, supplying nearly 1,250 homes with water. Aqua also moved quickly to add an 11th well to its system. That added 500,000 gallons of water per day to the total supply – far more than City Utilities pumped to Aqua customers at the peak of the drought.

Additionally, we politely disagree with Henry’s claim that Aboite Township water bills will decline as a result of a municipal takeover.

The facts simply don’t support the mayor’s math, and, given the expected high cost of acquiring Aqua’s three treatment plants, it’s hard to imagine how rates wouldn’t actually go up for city customers.

Aqua has already spent millions of dollars to upgrade water and sewage treatment plants in its system.

In contrast, City Utilities is just beginning a series of rate increases to fund millions of dollars in rehabilitation of its aged water infrastructure. Are the mayor and City Council prepared to guarantee Aboite Township residents, recently annexed into the city against their will, won’t be subject to future rate increases for rebuilding a part of the system they would not be forced to finance without condemnation?

Rather than forcing taxpayers to fund an unnecessary takeover of a well-run private business that has 35 dedicated employees, pays its share of taxes and has invested millions of dollars in Aboite Township, we believe the community is best served by cooperation that leads to optimum utilization of existing facilities.

Tom Bruns is president of Aqua Indiana. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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