Hearing Set on Jacksonville Utility Purchase
Source: 
Jacksonville Time Union

The Jacksonville Environmental Association (JEA) will conduct a public hearing on its proposed $219 million purchase of United Water's service areas for 35,000 customers in Duval, St. Johns and Nassau (Fla.) counties.
After the hearing, the JEA and United Water will work on sealing the deal first announced in August. The transaction will put the United Water customers under the JEA's rate structure, which generally provides lower bills for customers, according to the JEA analysis. The exception for residential customers would be those who use a relatively high amount of water each month because they would pay more under the JEA rates for combined water-sewer bills.
The JEA estimates that about 10 percent of United Water's customers fall into the category of facing higher monthly water-sewer bills under JEA rates, and the city-owned utility said it won't raise rates for existing customers to cover the cost of the purchase.
The deal faced a late-breaking hitch when the St. Johns River Water Management District assessed $96,000 in penalties against United Water in mid-November for withdrawing too much groundwater from its Nassau County wells in 1998 through 2000, and in its St. Johns County wells in 1999 and 2000.
United Water filed an application to amend the permits Dec. 14, but the water management district won't take action on them until after the new year.
JEA spokesman Bruce Dugan said the utility has been in talks with the district about ways to correct the problems. For instance, one reason for the excess water withdrawals in St. Johns County is a higher water usage rate among United Water customers than the permit's limits can handle.
"We will find a solution and we will make it work," Dugan said. "It may take some additional investment on our part, but we don't mind investing in something that will let us lower water usage and protect our resources."
Dugan also said the JEA is considering a program where the utility would go to people's homes and do free inspections of the soil type to tell people how often they needed to water the lawns.
The Jacksonville City Council, Nassau County Commission and St. Johns County Commission have all approved the JEA acquisition.

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