News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 22, 2014
Stonington Water company eyes update of operating rules

by Rich Hewitt

The Stonington Water Company is considering draft changes to the terms and conditions under which it operates.

The draft changes are wide-ranging, covering a variety of the utility’s operations, and provide a more detailed guideline for both the company and its customers, according to information presented at a recent water company meeting.

Annaliese Hafford, an engineer with Olver Associates who has managed the water company operations for the past year, presented the initial draft of changes last week, stressing that they were just a first draft.

The idea of updating the terms and conditions arose earlier this year as the selectmen, who serve as the directors of the water company, discussed the issue of unpaid water bills. At that time, Hafford noted that under the Maine Public Utilities Commission rules, there are measures that the water company could take in dealing with overdue bills, but added that those measures must be spelled out formally in the Terms and Conditions, which basically serves as a contract between the utility and its customers. The document outlines the responsibilities of both the water company and the customer and establishes methods to deal with issues that arise when those responsibilities are not met.

One of the problems with that document, Hafford said last week, is that it is often vague about what the water company can do. As an example, she pointed to the section on abating a customer’s bill.

“The current rules say that the water company has the right to abate, but it leaves it open,” she said.

The revised draft suggests that abatements be based on the recommendation of the water company manager.

“I’ve tried to include language that will make things easier,” she said.

Much of the document is based on MPUC rules. The terms of payment section, for example, allows the water company to charge a late payment fee for overdue bills that cannot be more than the amount allowed by the MPUC. The document also outlines specific reasons by which the water company can disconnect service, also included in the commission’s rules and regulations. Those rules also allow the water company to assess a charge for reconnection when service is restored.

The draft document does include other suggested fees and charges, but Hafford stressed again that this was a first draft and that the amounts included in the draft were subject to change.

The terms and conditions are not all punitive, however. The document includes sections on specific operations such as how the company responds to leaks in the customer-owned sections of the line and how it will meter water usage.

Hafford urged the selectmen to review the language suggested in the draft and to offer suggestions as part of the revision process. The selectmen had just received the proposed draft, so there was little discussion, but it was clear that they were more than willing to add their two cents to the process.

“I’ve already got six questions and I haven’t got past the first page,” said Evelyn Duncan.

Hafford indicated that, although the changes required consideration, the board could have the updated document completed by early July. Once the board completes its work, the document will need to be reviewed by the MPUC and the board also needs to hold a public hearing on the changes before they can become effective.