Residents of Terre Du Lac are hoping to have their voices heard in a public hearing regarding the potential sale of their water and sewer systems.
The Terre Du Lac (TDL) Utilities Corporation owns the water and sewer systems operating in the lake development community and is looking to transfer ownership of the company’s assets.
Through its affiliate company, Confluence Rivers Utility Operating Company, Inc., Central States Water Resources, based out of St. Louis, has requested permission to buy the lake development’s utility system.
The company is requesting permission from the Public Service Commission that currently regulates the rates for the Terre Du Lac water and sewer systems.
Caleb Hall, an attorney for the Office of Public Counsel, explained that during these acquisition cases, traditionally, what happens is after the utility files the application, the staff of the Public Service Commission, which is an independent body that appears before the commission, then files a recommendation.
Hall said that if a party objects to the recommendation, then the case will proceed on a procedural scheduled toward a possible hearing, and it becomes a contested case.
“What happened here is our office read the staff recommendation and noted that staff had reported that the customers of TDL had not received notice of the potential sale,” said Hall. “...We were obviously concerned that the public being served is not aware of what might be happening to their system, so we filed a motion asking the commission to suspend any future action on the case so that a notice could go out.
“The company has since responded that it doesn’t object to having a public hearing — we’ll probably have a virtual one because of COVID,” Hall noted. “The company claims to have sent out a customer notice sometime in late August of this year.
“I don’t doubt the sincerity that those notices went out, but I’ve also received calls from other TDL customers that claimed to have never received it,” the attorney explained. “So, clearly, there was some breakdown in communication as notice went out.”
The Office of Public Counsel, the utility companies, and staff are going to propose local public hearings on Oct. 26 jointly. Hall said that the commission should then issue a local public hearing procedural schedule, complete with all the other dates, such as testimony and potential hearing.
“Nothing happens immediately,” Hall said. “I understand the concerns we’ve had from the public of being able to have their voice heard, and that’s why our office wanted to have a local public hearing and this kind of procedural schedule so that could happen. But, this is not something that’s going to be completed this month.”
The attorney said he could not give a definitive answer as to when the commission might issue an order for a public hearing.
“The commission meets once a week for agenda on Wednesdays,” Hall explained. “And the commission has been irregular with what business they take before it every week, so they could issue an order on [Oct. 28], or they may not issue an order until Nov. 11.”
News of the potential sale came this year as Terre Du Lac Utilities approached its tenth year in litigation with the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
In 2010, the state entities first alleged that Terre Du Lac Utilities violated the Missouri Clean Water Law by allowing sludge from its three wastewater treatment facilities to enter the nearby Big River tributaries.
It is not yet clear how the utility company’s potential sale will affect the ongoing court case. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office was unable to be reached for a comment on the civil case.
Hall noted that he was not a party to the case filed in 2010, but after looking at the case files and speaking with the parties in the case, the attorney said he believed if the sale is completed, Terre Du Lac Utilities and its operator Mike Tilley will have resolved several outstanding environmental violations to the state. However, the attorney said he believed Tilley would still owe several sums to the state even after the sale.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com
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