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Warren County

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Private Corporate Takeover of NC Water/Sewer Utilities Continues

Summer, 2012

Aqua NC’s business strategy involves aggressive acquisition of water and sewer systems. The NC Utilities Commission actually incentivizes Aqua to buy troubled systems, forcing higher rates on residents (see “Acquisition Policies Around the Country”). In a startling recent case, a Buncombe County system serving a small mobile home park was sold to Aqua at the recommendation of the Public Staff, the independent agency created to advocate for consumers’ best interests in Commission proceedings. The previous owner had mismanaged the system, which resells City of Asheville water, and residents had complained of low water pressure. The Utilities Commission revoked his right to resell water after finding out he had falsely claimed he owned the property on his application form.

Without considering other options (bids from other companies, approaching the City about direct municipal service), Public Staff contacted Aqua, asking them to buy the system. Jerry Tweed, the Public Staff employee who contacted the landlord about the transfer, is the former Vice-President of Heater Utilities (now owned by Aqua). The situation underscores the extent of revolving-door politics and likely conflicts of interest present in NC’s so-called “consumer advocate” branch of the Utilities Commission.

The Commission is also considering allowing another takeover by Aqua: 12 systems serving 500 customers in Warren and Northampton Counties. Residents from several neighborhoods attended a hearing in June. CWFNC has reached out to residents in both areas with an “urgent response” giving firsthand accounts of the range of problems customers have experienced. To contribute your story to this growing compilation of customer complaints, email katie@cwfnc.org.