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Aloha Utilities' drip torture of Pasco customers ends

Twenty-five thousand utility customers in southwest Pasco just said good-bye to Aloha. Four days ago, the Florida Governmental Utility Authority closed on the $90.5 million acquisition of Aloha Utilities, bringing to an end 14 years of squabbling among customers, private ownership, a state senator and the Public Service Commission over the quality of the tap water in Trinity, Chelsea Place and other nearby neighborhoods.

Monday afternoon, the authority, its newly hired operator — New Port Richey-based U.S. Water Services Corp. — and residents met to map out a time line for improved service to the community, which has long suffered with dark, smelly water.

"We won't see perfect water right away,'' said Wayne Forehand, one of the leading citizen advocates for the customers, "but incremental improvements should be coming within the first two months.''

Plans call for tapping into county water lines at four locations and cutting back use of two Aloha wells frequently blamed for the dark water. A $12 million upgrade of the utilities pipes and processing system could take up to two years to complete, and customers will see a rate increase in their bills to finance the improvements.

Nobody seems to be complaining. Though Forehand acknowledged the FGUA paid a premium price for Aloha, ridding the area of the utility's unresponsive management was a worthwhile investment.

Since the mid 1990s, customers have complained of discolored water smelling like rotten eggs that ruined laundry, made bathing uncomfortable and consumption impossible. The water's high hydrogen sulfide content is blamed for the odor and a chemical reaction with copper piping for the discoloration.

At one point, the poor water quality threatened to harm Pasco's industrial recruitment when one Trinity-based manufacturer said it couldn't recommend the area to other corporations because of the product Aloha delivered.

Among the suggestions tossed around, but never implemented, were changes in the county's building code to require PVC piping in new home construction, new treatment systems for Aloha, stripping the utility of a portion of its franchise area, and, finally, a PSC order to make multimillion-dollar capital improvements. Despite the efforts, the eventual solution became buying out Aloha, a satisfactory outcome for customers, but a regrettable financial reward for private-sector indifference.

There are numerous commendations to be handed out for the final transaction. Residents like Forehand refused to give up their fight. Pasco commissioners and administrators brought the county into the authority in order to expedite the negotiation and sale of Aloha. And, most notably, state Sen. Mike Fasano, whose tireless advocacy on behalf of the customers reached to the PSC and the Legislature in Tallahassee, and prompted Aloha's owners to invest heavily in the senator's 2008 election opponent.

All of them made the deal possible. Now, after 14 years of Aloha's excuses and foot-dragging, public patience is about to be rewarded.

Aloha Utilities' drip torture of Pasco customers ends 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 8:35pm]
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