U-R sale talks are continuing

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 25, 1999

Talks between Union-Rome Sewer District and Ohio-American Water Co.

Monday, October 25, 1999

Talks between Union-Rome Sewer District and Ohio-American Water Co. about a possible sale of the county’s sewer system are slowly progressing.

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A decision could be reached before next year, though, Ohio-American vice president and manager Wilkes Coleman said.

The company is still reviewing operating and financial information, such as sewer system statistics, EPA mandates and future repair estimates.

"We don’t see this as something happening in a big hurry," Coleman said. "We will take our time determining our position before negotiating either a contract or an acquisition offer, but I think we would get back before the end of the year."

When Ohio-American decides its position, it will meet with the Union-Rome Sewer Advisory Board and the Lawrence County Commission.

Advisory board members heard the company’s initial proposal to purchase the problem-plagued sewer system, and has said interest is high.

Over the years, Union-Rome has battled environmental problems, increasing rates, delinquent accounts, sewer plant capacity problems and groundwater infiltration.

If a larger utility company can help alleviate those problems, while keeping rates down and protecting customers, then considering proposals is a positive option that could bring more efficiency to the sewer system, members say.

Coleman said any action will be joint decision between the board, company and commissioners.

Current problems with groundwater slipping into the system, which pushes the sewer plant’s capacity to the limit, will need to be addressed, especially because of the resulting EPA violations, Coleman added.

"Sewer districts all over the state suffer similar problems," he said. "Our involvement will hopefully bring financial support that is integrated with some of our operations."

In other words, when a bigger company shells out the cash to correct groundwater infiltration, customers do not see as much of an economic effect as they would if a smaller company made the corrections, Coleman said.

Any work needed to comply with EPA orders, or changes to the current system, would be part of any agreement between Union-Rome and Ohio-American, he said.

The company could "lease" Union-Rome’s county employees in order to protect their public employee status, but more information is needed before a final decision can be reached, Coleman said.

And, Ohio-American has purchased systems before where future rate hikes only could be approved under certain circumstances, such as a need to upgrade, if both parties agree, he said.