EPA, GWA ordered to develop timelines - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

EPA, GWA ordered to develop timelines

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The Guam Waterworks Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have one week to work out their differences and come up with timelines for projects listed in the stipulated order. While the feds want GW to proceed immediately on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects, GWA and the Consolidated Commission on Utilities are trying to strike a balance, as it could mean substantial increases to water bills. 

Patience is wearing thin for the USEPA. The list of projects to bring GWA into compliance with the Clean Water Drinking Act means it will cost ratepayers more for water.  But how much more and how soon those increases will take effect remains to be seen. 

CCU chairman Simon Sanchez told KUAM News, "We can't price water out of the reach of the people. The cure can't kill the patient. So we hope we can strike that balance with EPA. It's all important, but the people of Guam can only afford so much."

Sanchez says GWA is more comfortable with longer timelines to allow for phased rate increases. But Attorney Robert Mullaney made it clear via videoconference this morning that coming to an agreement with the utility agency on the timelines for the remaining projects that include assessing reservoirs, repairing water tanks, and refurbishing the northern and Hagatna Wastewater Treatment Plants, has yielded virtually nothing in the last year. In fact, he urged the court to use her authority to enforce timelines USEPA proposed back in December.

Mullaney added that the USEPA is so fed up it is ready to begin imposing stipulated penalties for GWA's continued non-compliance. GWA on the other hand feels the timelines are unreasonable and unrealistic when balanced with the affordability of water. 

Sanchez told the court he doesn't want customers to be forced to pay $200 a month for water. "When you take all the things that EPA wants as a priority and you add it up, it's becoming a very big number and our people can only afford so much," he stated. "And as we've planned from the very beginning, we've spread out borrowing $200 million over five or six years; we've spread out raising rates 70% over 8 years to try to keep it affordable."

The parties agreed to meet to duke it out and try to settle the timelines this Friday before they appear before District Court Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan next week Wednesday for a settlement conference.  How negotiations go later this week will determine how much more ratepayers will be forced to pay for the improvements to Guam's water and wastewater infrastructure.

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