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OAW seeks water rate increase

CHESAPEAKE — A proposed rate hike by Ohio American Water that could impact eastern Lawrence County customers is on the radar screen of a Columbus-based consumer advocacy group.

Last month Ohio American Water filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to increase rates for all its Ohio customers. That would affect approximately 48,000 statewide and about 3,300 residential and commercial customers in an area that runs from Burlington to just below Bradrick.

According to the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, that would mean an increase for the first year of $11.60 or an estimated bill of $57.09 with a bill just under $80 after a four-year period. On average bills could run $57.09 for 2010; $74.41 for 2011; $75.24 for 2012; and $79.55 for 2013.

The rate increase was filed on June 8 with direct testimony from OAW filed two weeks later. Deadline for testimony and objections is November and a final decision expected by February 2010. “This is still in the beginning stages, but an increase of this magnitude, we are very concerned with,” Anthony Rodriquez of the OCC said. “”This is the third rate increase requested in three years.”

According to documents from Ohio American to the PUCO, if this step rate increase is approved, it “would allow the company the opportunity to keep from filing general rate cases until 2013. … This rate change request reflects an investment by Ohio American Water of more than $17 million statewide to enhance water and wastewater infrastructure since July 1, 2007.

“It also reflects that many of our expenses, most notably production expenses such as chemicals used in the water treatment process, have far outpaced the rate of inflation.”

Since July of 2007 OAW has spent $586,000 in Lawrence County to repair, replace and relocate mains, hydrants and meters, according to Mary Beth Johnson, company spokesperson.

“We have also spent $13,000 to purchase meter reading equipment and make improvements in the plant,” Johnson said. “The company is asking for the increase to recover money spent on projects across the state of Ohio and also increased costs, just the costs of doing business.”

However, the Counsel wants more information and is encouraging customers to contact the PUCO with specific information about how this proposal would affect them.

“It is important to tell the PUCO in writing or through service lines what a rate increase will have on their budget, not simply say you oppose the rate increase” Rodriguez said. “Give specific reasons on the quality of the water, the impact on your budget, what your water budget is in comparison to the rest of your bills.”

The spokesperson for OAW also wants customer input on the proposed increase.

“We encourage people to speak their opinion and be part of the process,” Johnson, external affairs manager, said. “But our costs are basically based on what it costs to deliver the service and even with the increase that we are seeking the cost of water service is still about a penny a gallon. Which is a very good value.”