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Henry: Aqua Indiana 'remedy is not coming quickly enough'

Letter from Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry as distributed Friday by the city:

July 11, 2012

The Hon. James D. Atterholt, Chairman

Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission

101 West Washington Street, Suite 1500 East

Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-3407

Re: Aqua Indiana's southwest Fort Wayne utility services

Dear Chairman Atterholt and Commissioners:

On behalf of the citizens of Fort Wayne, and in particular, the residents of southwest Fort Wayne, I thank you for conducting a public meeting to discuss the ongoing water service problems that have challenged Aqua Indiana.

For many years, residents of southwest Fort Wayne have expressed their frustrations to me about the cost and quality of the water they receive from Aqua Indiana. Over the past few years, we have received petitions from more than 20 neighborhoods representing over 2,000 households in the Aqua Indiana service area, asking to be switched to Fort Wayne City Utility services. Additionally, over 40 different neighborhoods have contacted us expressing displeasure at Aqua Indiana's rates and service levels, and interest in switching to City Utilities services. As Mayor, their concerns are my concerns, as 70 percent of Aqua customers live within the City of Fort Wayne.

Since I became Mayor five years ago, I have consistently advocated for Aqua Indiana to provide better service while containing costs. I believe that all residents of Fort Wayne deserve high-quality, dependable utility services at fair, competitive prices. As a matter of public safety, it is imperative that all Fort Wayne residents can rely upon adequate water supplies and pressure to meet any firefighting needs. (See attached note from our Fire Chief Amy Biggs)

I have directed Fort Wayne City Utilities to work with Aqua staff in helping them find solutions to residents' concerns. In recent months, there has been some progress, but many Aqua customers and I remain concerned a remedy is not coming quickly enough. The rate hikes in the last three years, and recent pressure and supply issues have magnified their concerns and it's time for their voices to be heard.

Currently, City Utilities is providing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day to customers of Aqua Indiana in southwest Fort Wayne. I pledge to keep the agreement in place for as long as Aqua customers need this resource. Furthermore, Fort Wayne is open to expanding this arrangement and making it permanent.

As you are aware, this is not the first time that Fort Wayne City Utilities has been called upon to safeguard its residents' water service. In 1998, when Aqua (then known as the Utility Center, Inc.) faced similar catastrophic water shortages, City Utilities established system interconnections that stayed in use until 2002. Before it was allowed to close those water supply connections, Aqua Indiana was required by you to plan and prepare better and invest in infrastructure to address its shortcomings. These safeguards remained as the system changed ownership to AquaSource, when Aqua Indiana's management stated they had completed upgrades to their system and had no need of water resources from the City.

Sadly, those efforts have not proven to be effective in the long term or may not have been fully implemented. Since then, Aqua Indiana has again become lax in their preparations and planning and continued to pass along higher rates for even more drinking water projects, when regional partnering or cooperative opportunities were available instead.

It is long past time for the utility concerns of southwest Fort Wayne residents to be fully addressed. I hope the meeting on July 13 will mark the beginning of an enduring solution to these longstanding issues. As Mayor, I will continue to advocate for the well-being of all Fort Wayne residents and their access to high-quality, affordable services. As a good neighbor, we want to ensure the safety and security of our community and to work together with Aqua to keep Fort Wayne a great place to live and the best place for job creation and business investment.

Again, I thank the IURC for holding an informational meeting to investigate this situation and gather community input.

Thank you for your consideration of these most important matters.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas C. Henry


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