County will sell Union Rome sewer system

Published 1:15 pm Saturday, January 14, 2023

Sale has to be approved by Public Utilities Commission

On Wednesday, it was announced that the Lawrence County Commissioners had reached an agreement to sell the Union Rome sewer system to Aqua.

Closing of the sale is anticipated to be sometime this summer if the deal gets approval from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

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The county will get $25.5 million, which will be used to retire debts relating to the system, and the company said it is going to invest an estimated $12.7 million in the wastewater system within the next five years to meet regulatory and environmental demands.

The wastewater collection network and treatment plant serves 5,300 customers in the southeast corner of the county.

The company said it will play a key role in improving the system’s operations, which have been impacted by increasingly stringent regulatory requirements along with rising supply and material costs. In addition, Aqua said its business model enables the company to offer many of the benefits of larger organizations, such as staff engineers, a dedicated customer service team and customer assistance programs.

The sale had been discussed by the commissioners at public meetings throughout the last half of 2023 and in November, the commissioners voted to accept the bid proposal from Aqua.

The Union Rome sewer plant was built for approximately $25 million in 2008, financed through a loan from Ohio Water Development Authority.

Lawrence County Commission president Colton Copley said that while the Union Rome Sewer system serves 5,300 connections, Aqua serves half a million people in Ohio and three million across all their states.

“With Aqua’s economies of scale they are able to negotiate better prices for materials, equipment or chemicals and can operate more efficiently than we can,” Copley said “In the long run, I believe customers will get more reliable service, the system will be better maintained and rates will be more predictable than if we tried to maintain ownership as a government-run operation.”

County commissioner DeAnna Holliday said that operating a wastewater system is a lot more complicated than it was even a few years ago.

“Technology, regulatory requirements and environmental standards are continually evolving,” she said. “It is more and more difficult for small communities to operate sewer systems. That’s why selling the system to Aqua makes sense. Their operational scope and expertise in operating wastewater systems will benefit our residents.”

Robert Davis, Aqua Ohio’s president commended the commissioners for the agreement that addressed the multiple needs of the system and the customers.

“Aqua is poised to make the necessary $12.7 million in investments to ensure system reliability and regulatory compliance,” he said. “With Aqua, required increases can be more gradual than if the county maintained ownership. And finally, our economies of scale, expertise and customer-centric programs, such as Aqua-Aid, will directly benefit our new customers.”

David Dunn is Aqua’s area manager and will oversee the transition and manage the system once the agreement is finalized.

He said Aqua Ohio has served customers in western Lawrence County with water service for decades.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to welcome wastewater customers in Union and Rome townships and the Villages of Chesapeake and Proctorville to our local operations,” Dunn said. “We’ll collaborate with the County during the transition, as they will maintain billing and maintenance responsibilities until closing.”

Aqua Ohio is Ohio’s largest investor-owned drinking water and wastewater utility and serves about 500,000 customers in 19 counties.