Charlestown officials taking steps to sell water PDF Print E-mail
Written by Janna Ross   
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 06:57

The Charlestown City Council voted 4-1 on July 6 to sell the city’s water to Indiana American Water. The city’s water quality has been an issue for decades and recently has garnered extra attention in the media.

Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall has  dealt with the city’s brown water issues since he first took office in 2000.

“When I was first elected in 2000, we had a huge problem with brown water. It was not uncommon to receive 15 to 20 calls per day and have three to four water leaks a day,” Hall recalled. “We had less than half of the fire hydrants that worked and the water meters dated back to the 1940’s. We had many meters that didn’t work or didn’t read right.”

Hall continued, “Fast forward to today... we have hydrants working, new meters a couple of times now. We only have three to four leaks a month in active months and many months without leaks. If it’s not flushing season, we may get 15 calls in two months. We have seen major improvements.”

Hall and city officials introduced Clearitas to help improve the quality of the water in 2012. According to Hall, after the introduction of Clearitas “we saw great improvement.”

Although an improvement was noticed a plateau of improvement happened after about three years to force city officials to look into what caused the plateau.

“We brought in an engineering company to build a reality system of our water system. We discovered in the city where the water dead end systems and water aging systems were. The water was taking longer than is optimal to make Clearitas effective,” he stated.

Hall continued, “So we created maps to show the water aging in each area since the introduction of Clearitas. We’ve kept track of what addresses experienced problems. We created a map with all of the water calls and a map with the aging. They match up almost perfectly.”

Engineers then laid out a plan in phases to get quality of water in the system.

“The plan was very expensive as a community to do. We had a presentation to the Council in early 2016. We applied for money to help in moving forward with the project when Indiana American Water called and wanted to talk,” Hall stated. “At first, I was just like, no, we have no desire to sell our water.”

The project will be implemented in two phases. The first phase occurring this year and the second phase in 2020/2021.

If Charlestown would implement the repairs, the next step would cost, according to Hall, $8 million in repairs. The first phase would have the residents seeing an increase to $38.85 for 5,000 gallons of water usage in a month. The second phase would add an additional $16 to $17 to push the water bill to $53 a month.

Hall then outlined the expected bill for residents if Indiana American Water is the provider.

“The rate for Indiana American Water, with all the projects they have scheduled, the rate will be $44.25,” Hall explained. “Indiana American Water has a 1.2 to 2 percent increase annually in rates, historically. The fear of our water rates sky rocketing year after year is just unfounded. The IURC (Indiana Utility Regulation Commission) regulates them each year, the same as the city.

Hall continued to explain what he believes citizens need to know about the sale of the city’s water.

“First, Indiana American Water is not buying the wells. The City of Charlestown will not be selling the wells. Indiana American Water is buying all the pipes from the well field and the distribution system of the water,” Hall explained. “They have signed a 35 year lease with Indiana American Water on the wells. There are safeguards in place to ensure they do not over pump the wells. All water sold outside the city, Charlestown gets a residual of that.”

Hall continued about the details of the water deal, “Indiana American Water must meet with the current mayor every three years to go over the water quality and future water needs. The wells, we own it. Frankly, we have first right of refusal if the system is ever sold to anyone else. We have the first right to buy the water back.”

The development of River Ridge has brought the area much opportunity that has never been seen.

“Water is important. We have kept safeguards in place. Indiana American Water has made concessions to us that may not be normal to meet the needs,” Hall explained. “Our proposal is how to deliver the best product with the lowest cost. We are at a crossroads we have not seen in our lifetime with the River Ridge/ East End Bridge and the amount of development headed our way. We have to make sure we do not grow into something we do not want but also make sure we are ready. We have two things that have been a challenge. Every four years it is broadcast how bad our water is. And we know it will cost millions to repair but we have to find a way to get it done and keep rates affordable. The other major project is the redevelopment of Pleasant Ridge. It’s a hindrance in the redevelopment.”

Hall continued, “I was put here to make the city better. I have never been a maintenance mayor. I understand the window of opportunity Charlestown is in at this time. We have entertained ideas not given before and from it we have been given opportunities we have not had since Boomtown of the Ammunition Plant.”

Indiana American Water Community and Government Affairs Director Matt Prine is excited about what his company can do for Charlestown.

“The introduction of the growth brings cities to look to have partners. This addresses the water and provides for long term investment for Charlestown and the region. Charlestown is a natural extension of that,” Prine stated. “The agreement provides value back to the city. We want to be a life long partner for Charlestown.”

Prine continued, “Indiana American Water has made a commitment to resolve the water issues. We have gone door to door to talk with residents. We have committed to do what we can to provide quality, reliable water. We have a capital investment of $13.4 million. We will be improving aging pipes, providing treatment and certainly making some improvements. We are built to provide service. When we take on ownership of the system we will continue to invest capital to ensure the quality continues to improve.”

American Water serves over 1.2 million customers including 300,000 Hoosiers across the state.

“This will have a limited impact on all customers,” Prine added. “The capital improvements in the aged infrastructure will go through the IURC.”

Prine continued with details of the agreement, “We will be filing joint petition with the city with IURC in 30 to 60 days. Once the commission has filed, then its 210 days, 7 months, to review everything. They will look at the fairness to both customers.”

Prine concluded, “The State of Indiana now has to look at the deal offerings and evaluate.”

Indiana American Water Company has committed to investing $7 million over the next five years to improve water quality and to replace the aging infrastructure in Charlestown.

Hall continued with the future plans for the city. His list offered six plans for the future.

“One, to solve the water issue. Two, orderly redevelopment of Pleasant Ridge This will take years in process. Three, we are looking at what the next steps will be to create a better family community. We are looking at a Family Sports Complex, to finish the sidewalk project to connect all the community together including the annexed area. Then, we have the Renaissance Projects to downtown.”

Hall continued about the future plans for Charlestown, “We are in the process of talks with Kids Square to create a retail business incubator to help create mom and pop businesses and make them successful. We hope to come together with the property itself in the next few months. The sixth thing is the Sports Complex. It will feature new baseball fields for the little league and basketball, soccer and volleyball areas. It will be really nice and draw thousands to the area for youth tournaments.”

The last current project allows animal lovers to be able to spend quality time with their fur baby.

“We intend to put several dog parks throughout the city, including the annexed areas. These are in the design process now and we hope to have one or two dog parks open by next year. The dog parks are a great way to get people and their pets out enjoying the city.”

The details of the water deal will give Charlestown $13.4 million for the sale of the water.

According to Hall, “a little over $1 million will pay off the debt on it. We will take a couple million in a sales credit account for citizens of Charlestown. That will give them a $20 per month credit on the sewer bill for the first year. It has been recommended to the council that we will credit customers $20 a month for the first year, $15 a month for the second year, $10 a month for the third year and $5 a month for the fourth year. Over a four year period we can phase into the rates so we will help soften the rates so people can get it into their budget.”

Hall concluded, “Indiana America Water has been the water supplier for Jeffersonville, New Albany and Clarksville for nearly 20 years. You never hear about scandal from them. People are satisfied with their service and the leaders there are satisfied with their service. The time has come to fix this problem. It’s going to cost millions to do. The question was how to do it without negatively impacting customers financially or price ourselves out of market with future businesses and current businesses. The remaining $10 million plus, we will have the city council charged with how that will be spent. My hopes is that it will be spent with projects in the future. It will give us leverage for grants and other monies.”