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Water company says calls to postpone surcharge case ‘opportunistic’

West Virginia American Water officials believe groups calling for a postponement of the company’s request for a multimillion-dollar surcharge are grandstanding and using the recent flooding in West Virginia to their advantage.

On Monday, the water utility’s attorneys filed a letter of objection with the state Public Service Commission, after numerous parties to the case called for the company’s infrastructure surcharge proposal to be delayed due to the severe flooding that hit parts of the region in June.

Water company officials, while saying the company understands the impact that flooding has had on people and communities, argue that the damage shouldn’t affect the three-member commission’s ability to approve the surcharge.

The surcharge would increase company spending by $32.5 million over the next two years and increase the average customer’s monthly bill by 89 cents per month.

The city of Charleston, Kanawha County, the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division, the West Virginia Energy Users Group and the PSC staff have all supported the postponement because of the flooding.

But the water company says those calls “could reasonably be characterized as opportunistic, if not insincere.”

On Tuesday, those groups filed a joint motion restating their position.

“As the weeks progressed and more damage was reported, more deaths were documented, and more businesses were deemed a total loss,” their lawyers said, “the magnitude and severity of loss to the community became evident.”

After the flooding, American Water provided tanker trucks of water to some of the hardest-hit towns and helped public water districts rebuild damaged infrastructure. The lawyers for the utility make that known in their letter.

“The Company understands the on-the-ground impacts of the late June flooding as well as any organization does, having worked round-the-clock to restore service to thousands of water customers, including those of other utilities,” said Christopher Callas, American Water’s attorney.

But they also make it clear that the PSC should continue to move forward with the case.

“An indefinite suspension of commission proceedings, based primarily on sensitivity to the fraction of a utility’s customers affected by a disruptive event, is inconsistent with Commission practice and would set an unwise precedent,” Callas said.

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.

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