Diamond Point water contract delayed

Aquarius, the "water-bearer" constellation in astrology, is the name of a water provider in the Diamond Point area, but some residents do not see the utility as a local star.

Yet, while speaking to the Clallam County commissioners Aug. 26, Aquarius Utilities manager Gregory Roats was adamant his company provides great customer service and only a handful of residents are upset.

The commissioners were considering updating the utility's franchise contract to use public rights of way to convey water to its customers. During a public hearing, several of Roats' customers used the franchise discussion as a venue to vent frustrations.

Clallam County Public Works staff also indicated it wasn't easy to get Roats to agree to a franchise contract.

"The previous contract ended in 2000 and we have been working on getting a new agreement with them ever since," county engineer Ross Tyler said. "We did send applications each year and received a few phone calls back with explanations why he couldn't accept them, so it's just dragged on this long."

Roats said he took the fee structure to be unfair. Under the proposed agreement, the county would charge Aquarius users 64 cents per 1,000 cubic of water conveyed, a rate that increases at 3.5 percent a year.

Roats said the fee would add 75 cents being added to his customers' monthly bills.

The county is required to provide a means for private entities to compensate the public for the use of its rights of way. State law prohibits the county from gifting services to private entities.

Commissioners were less concerned with the new rate than that Roats had not paid the county for the use of its rights of way over the past eight years, a sum Tyler estimated to be at least $15,000.

Commissioner Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles, asked Roats if he planned on compensating the county for the lost general fund income.

"We don't exactly have it in our back pocket," he answered. "I'm just really not prepared to answer that question."

Commissioner Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, was critical of Aquarius, indicating most of the company's oversight fell into the state Department of Ecology or Health's lap, but that the county could do more oversight within its right of way.

The three commissioners opted to hold off approving the franchise in order to look into ways to get compensation for the past eight years and possibly work a penalty fee structure into the new contract or into county code for future franchise contract fallouts. A report will be made in coming weeks.

Before the meeting was finished, Doherty spoke directly to Roats.

"Just so that you are aware, government is looking into creating more regulation of your industry because of your failure to act," he said, indicating no one wants more regulation. "If people don't pay their utility bills, they get cut off. But it's not the same if a utility doesn't pay us and that's a tough situation."

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