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Aloha customers hope utility's sale means end of 'black water'

NEW PORT RICHEY — Richard Letvin is just days away from getting rid of the sour, stinky water from Aloha Utilities.

"It's like getting rid of the flu," Letvin said.

Letvin and his neighbors in Trinity are preparing to raise their glasses because the Florida Governmental Utility Authority gave its final approval Thursday to buy the troubled private utility for $90.5 million. The public agency will close on the water and sewer system next Friday, barring any hiccups.

Lining up financing the past few months was difficult, despite Aloha agreeing to the deal, authority officials said. When financial markets froze, Bank of America pulled out of the deal, prompting a delay of the December closing date. Wachovia Bank agreed to finance the purchase last month.

New owners will not mean clean water now. The authority will spend $12 million or more improving the pipes and processing systems for the utility, which serves roughly 20,000 customers in Holiday and Trinity. For years, customers blasted Aloha for its service and its "black water."

It was so bad, Letvin's son wouldn't let him drink it. As his home in Trinity was going up 10 years ago, the builder told Letvin he had to add a reverse osmosis system, which filters water to make it clean to drink. Letvin still drinks his water from the device.

Other neighbors have invested in bottled water.

Pasco County brought the authority on board to buy Aloha. Eventually, the county could bring the customers to its own utility system.

The new owners will not keep rates from going up. In Trinity, the typical household's monthly bill will go from $56 to $89 this spring. In Holiday, monthly bills will go from $83 to $88. But Aloha had proposed steeper increases before the acquisition.

FGUA says it will take two years to upgrade the utility lines to improve the water. But the top management at the private company will be gone.

"It has been a roller coaster for us," said John Andrews of Trinity, leader of the Better Water Now citizens group.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Aloha customers hope utility's sale means end of 'black water' 02/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 8:33pm]
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