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$75,000 well-spent to say Aloha to inferior water provider

The price to say ''Aloha'' to a problem-plagued water provider in southwest Pasco is $75,000 more than expected. Consider it money well spent to be rid of this nuisance permanently.

Aloha Utilities' bid to pocket more than $375,000 of customers' money in an escrow was the final insult to the people in Wynd­tree, Chelsea Place and other Trinity area locations who suffered with inferior tap water for nearly 15 years.

The money had been paid by customers for a 15 percent temporary rate increase that began in November 2001 but later was invalidated by the Florida Public Service Commission. Aloha refunded $142,000, about $7 per customer, but the balance remained in dispute.

It was a relatively minor sum considering Aloha, in February, closed on a deal to sell its assets and operations to the Florida Government Utility Authority for $90.5 million. That transaction, championed by Pasco County government, came after years of complaints of dark, smelly water coming from customers' taps and Aloha's inability to advance a new treatment system to solve the problem. After the sale, however, Aloha didn't leave graciously. Its stakeholders tried to grab the extra $375,000 on the way out the door, an arrogant slap at its former customers but certainly not out of character for the way this company had behaved over the years.

The end-of-the-game financial gambit earned scorn from customers and frequent Aloha critic Sen. Mike Fasano, and the dispute reached the circuit courts and the PSC before the settlement was reached. Last month, Aloha president Steve Watford signed an agreement with the utility authority, dropping its pending litigation and taking just less than $75,000 of the escrowed money. Pasco County also receives $85,000 to cover an outstanding invoice for engineering services. The remainder goes to the utility authority to help underwrite the expense of doing what Aloha was unable to: provide acceptable drinking water to its customers.

The settlement is best for the public. A protracted legal dispute could have eroded the account's bottom line even if the PSC had twice indicated the money should benefit customers either through a refund or through better water. Neither happened under Aloha's management, and it is time to terminate the company's ties to Seven Springs area water customers once and for all.

$75,000 well-spent to say Aloha to inferior water provider 07/13/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 13, 2009 5:46pm]
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