Press Release, Public Meeting

Signal Mountain citizens probe Tennessee American Water on transparency

Town hosts final public hearing on water system before expected vote

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (April 11, 2018) – At the Signal Mountain Town Hall gym Tuesday night, Be Vocal. Choose Local., other citizens and councilpersons questioned Tennessee American Water Company (TAWC) and Walden’s Ridge Utility District (WRUD) on why each would be the best to manage and supply water to the town. Multiple citizens raised questions on water quality, service, finances, transparency and representation within the utilities. Be Vocal. Choose Local. is urging the council to choose WRUD.

Local, quality customer service has been a point raised by citizens, and Tuesday night, business owner Chuck Pruett spoke out on the level of service he received at his market and at his home from WRUD.

“I live in a house of about 120 years old. We needed to replace the service entrance line going to the house,” said Pruett. “I called up Ron West [WRUD general manager], and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to put a new entrance line in through an inline road. Can we come off Shackleford Ridge Road?’ Ron said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t know Ron at the time and didn’t realize the effort to which Shackleford dropped 50 feet off the side. They even drilled underneath the road, put a new service line and then it ran 50 feet from the house. Perfect.”

WRUD provides customer service 24/7 and has an office on Signal Mountain with local employees on site to answer calls for service. The public utility is governed by a board of commissioners, who are all local, hold open meetings and make decisions based on ratepayers.

Tuesday night, Be Vocal. Choose Local. co-chair Dave Evans raised questions about how infrequently TAWC’s board of directors meets and the lack of available info on rate increases.

“Would you be willing to send the town a schedule of all your rate increases including rate increases for riders over the last 10 years that you have submitted to TPUC [Tennessee Public Utility Commission] and the amount that they granted so that that will be publicly available?” asked Evans to which TAWC president Valoria Armstrong agreed.

“Do any of you report to anyone at American Water Works, who appoints your board of directors and how many times does your board of directors meet in person?” continued Evans.

Armstrong said that they meet twice a year and that her boss is a senior vice president of American Water Works, who is also president of Kentucky American Water.

In an attempt to match the voting representation offered by WRUD, TAWC, which is for-profit and regulated by TPUC, has offered to set up a community advisory board. TAWC acknowledged at the meeting Tuesday night that the board would not have voting privileges.

“You have mentioned the advisory council,” said Signal Mountain resident Melissa Cantrell. “I in a phone call asked about those people because it seems to me that they serve as a liaison between the different stakeholders, the consumer, the municipalities. I was told that I couldn’t have that information, who they were. I can’t figure out how you could function as a liaison if people don’t know who you are.”

Cantrell went on to say that she had asked for the information in March of last year and that it was a little frustrating. Other citizens echoed Cantrell Tuesday night about having a hard time getting answers from TAWC.

“I also had asked four times since the last meeting for some information on that advisory board, some of the people that were on it – I don’t need their background – just people that were on it, when they met. I’m still waiting for that information,” said Claire Griesinger.

At the meeting Tuesday, neither the council nor moderators revealed next steps for the water system. Originally, the council was scheduled to vote on April 9. Now, that vote is scheduled for the next town council meeting on May 14.

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