Water costs stabilized: Area towns halt proposed hike

Friday, August 21, 2009
By Brandy Dolce

The Manasquan Users’ Group has put a cork in New Jersey American Water Company’s $50 million proposed rate hike, according to officials.

The rate-increase request, which was filed July 10 with the state Board of Public Utilities, had Shorelands Water Company President Mike Walsh seeking an alliance with various municipalities in the hopes of stabilizing, or even reducing water costs by building a case against the proposed increase.

The user group consists of South Belmar, Belmar, Matawan, Red Bank, Keyport and Avon-By-the-Sea, and was led by Walsh’s independent company, which services Union Beach, Hazlet, a portion of Aberdeen and the northern part of Holmdel.

The alliance, which has challenged rate-increase requests from New Jersey American in the past, once again pooled funds to hire experts to contest the hike.

Belmar Mayor Kenneth Pringle in August explained why the borough had decided to join the group.

“It’s a way for us to pool our resources and hire the experts we need to make sure that our residents’ interests are protected in the rate-making process,” he said.

In 1990, the state required Shorelands Water Company and the various municipalities to purchase water from the Manasquan River system, Walsh said. New Jersey American treats that water and delivers it to the various municipalities, giving the company the authority to propose rate hikes.

If the proposal were approved, the rate for South Belmar, which contracts for 100,000 gallons of water per day, would increase by $6,059 per year; the rate for Red Bank, which contracts for 547,000 gallons per day, would increase $33,143 per year; the rate for Matawan, which contracts for 469,000 gallons per day, would increase by $28,417 the rate for Keyport, which contracts for 458,000 gallons per day, would increase by $27,750 per year; the rate for Belmar, which contracts for 500,000 gallons per day, would increase by $30,295 per year; the rate for Avon-by-the-Sea, which contracts for 126,000 gallons per day, would increase by $7,634 per year, and the rate for Shorelands Water Co., which contracts for 2.4 million gallons per day, would go up by $115,194 per year.

There will be, however, a $6,000 or 23 percent increase in meter charges to his company, Walsh said. He said he doubts consumers will see that increase reflected in their water bills.

American Water Co. also wanted to modify its record-keeping in a way that would disallow the monitoring of the amount of water that’s delivered to the Manasquan Users’ Group, Walsh said. The request, however, was turned down by the BPU, and will allow the users’ group the means with which to protest possible future rate hikes, Walsh said.

“The fight’s not over,” he said. “It’s just round three.”

Walsh said the same group of municipalities periodically has united to battle American Water Co.’s proposed increases since 1990.

“We have had various degrees of success over the past 13 years,” Walsh said. “Pursuant to a 1995 case, the BPU rolled back the rates (American) charged us by 25 percent.”

He said the municipalities that get water from the Manasquan Reservoir are unique in that “from the onset we agreed to take water in such a fashion that it took advantage of the extra capacity of the existing pipelines of American. We don’t use their reservoirs. We don’t use their storage facilities.”

Asbury Park Press

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