Water dispute is costly
BALTIMORE/THURSTON– The Village of Thurston has until March 3, 2014, to hook onto a new water supplier or work out its differences with its long-term supplier – the Village of Baltimore.
Currently, the small village is planning to build a 5.3 mile, $1.2 million waterline along the east side of Ohio 37 to Millersport. It would replace the village’s 1.3 mile waterline along Ohio 256 that has conveyed Baltimore water to Thurston for the last 30+ years.
“I’m basically looking out for my residents,” said Thurston Mayor Mary Boring, who added that she believes Thurston is making progress in its goal to switch from Baltimore to Millersport water. “We’re close to $100,000 into this already,” she said. “Everyone in the village is excited about it.”
Thurston received a $111,000 water planning loan from the Ohio Water Development Authority in 2010.
Thurston objects to Baltimore’s desire to purchase Thurston’s eightinch diameter water line that connects the villages along Ohio 256. Thurston officials are concerned that Baltimore wants to use the waterline to promote development out to Ohio 37, while Thurston officials are only interested in purchasing water from Baltimore.
Baltimore Village Administrator Marsha Hall said the issue has been brewing for many years and she provided a timeline of events beginning late 2005:
• Oct. 2005: Thurston asks Baltimore to provide a contract proposal for the operation of its water system as Thurston’s operational costs rise. Baltimore submits a proposal and negotiations begin.
• Jan. 2006: Thurston asks Baltimore for a five-year break on water costs. Baltimore proposes a plan whereby Thurston would pay Baltimore’s bulk rate plus 10 percent beginning 2006. This rate would increase until Thurston pays bulk rate plus 25 percent in 2011. No agreement was reached.
Thurston continues to purchase bulk water at Baltimore’s bulk rate plus 25 percent. That works out to be $5.13 per 1,000 gallons.
• Sept. 2007: Baltimore and Thurston village councils hold a joint meeting to discuss options. Both councils agree to pursue water contract amendments, a possible development agreement, and they agreed to discuss the benefits of joint grant applications.
A Thurston council member suggests that Baltimore submits a proposal to purchase Thurston’s water system.
• March 2008: Baltimore presents a proposal to purchase Thurston’s water system. Also, Baltimore discusses its upcoming water tower grant project. Thurston gives permission to flow hydrants so Thurston’s system can be evaluated. Baltimore discusses the need to move the master meter as part of this project.
• July 2008: Thurston requests contract modifications to the bulk rate minus 20 percent and removing Baltimore’s right to purchase the waterline due to annexations to Baltimore.
Baltimore tells Thurston these changes are not acceptable because they’re an extreme change from the existing contract and past discussions and proposals. Baltimore’s response also provides information evaluating the impact of the water tower project on Thurston’s water system and again requests permission to move the master meter.
• Feb. 2009: Thurston sends a letter to Baltimore giving permission to move the master meter if Baltimore installs a pressure regulator on the west side of the meter and if Baltimore purchases the waterline between the locations of the new and old master meter for $125,000. Baltimore agreed to install the pressure regulator but not to paying $125,000 for the waterline. Hall explained that Baltimore officials believed the line was worth far less than $125,000.
Baltimore consulted with legal counsel and determined Baltimore had the right to move the master meter. Increased water pressure on the old line caused it to burst, and Baltimore built a new waterline to the master meter. Thurston officials said they didn’t know the waterline would be moved. Hall said Baltimore offered to replace the old line, but Baltimore would own it. Thurston didn’t agree. After the line burst, Hall said Baltimore had no choice but to construct a new line.
• Aug. 2009: After some discussion, the villages agree to a joint council meeting Aug. 26, but not enough Thurston council members attend to hold the meeting.
• May 2010: Baltimore Mayor Bob Kalish sent a letter to Boring stating that “after careful and lengthy consideration,” Baltimore council members decided not to renew Thurston’s water contract when it expires in 2014. The letter adds, “In addition, future Village of Baltimore water capacity and water plant improvement needs would necessitate that the Thurston water users pay for Thurston’s share of capacity and improvement needs as part of any new water supply agreement.”
• April 2011: Some Baltimore officials were still willing to sell water to Thurston and Hall sent Thurston a new proposal:
• Thurston customers would pay the same rate as Baltimore customers.
• Baltimore will serve, as its customer, any property located in Baltimore’s Ohio EPA approved 208 planning area which encompasses both sides of Ohio 256 to just east of Ohio 37. The master meter would be moved, at Baltimore’s cost, to the east side of Ohio 37.
• Baltimore will purchase the existing waterline along Ohio 256 to the new site of the master meter. Current Thurston customers on that portion of the line will be moved to the new Baltimore water line at Baltimore’s cost.
• Baltimore will provide assistance to Thurston to determine the most economic method to distribute water.• The contract will include language that allows future renegotiations for additional capacity. all Thurston council members agreed that the second and third points are not negotiable. “It was agreed by all members of the Thurston council that Thurston only wishes to purchase water, and if Thurston can’t simply purchase water from the Village of Baltimore, then we do not wish to negotiate,” Boring wrote.
Thurston Village’s web site describes the frustrations Thurston has experienced throughout this process. The letter Kalish sent to Boring stating that Baltimore would not be renewing the water contract suggests that Thurston had been in negotiations for water service from Baltimore, when in fact, according to the web site, Baltimore was trying to negotiate anything but continuing water service to Thurston.
The web site states that Baltimore wanted to take over Thurston’s entire water service. Baltimore wanted to use Thurston as its “lower-income” section in its utility plans to get more grants and lowerinterest loans for their own use.
According to the site, in Thurston’s attempt to simply negotiate better water rates, Baltimore has tried to strong-arm its way into controlling Thurston’s lines, the economics of the region, and has severely damaged its political relationship with Thurston.
In April, representatives from Baltimore told Thurston they were still interested in selling water to Thurston. Thurston agreed to listen and got a written proposal from Baltimore in a few days. Baltimore proposed buying Thurston’s water main between Baltimore and Ohio 37 and to add a $10 per-customer charge on each of Thurston’s account. Thurston Council members rejected the proposal, adding that they would not consider any proposal that includes selling their water lines. That’s the current state of any public negotiations.
The focus now is on the water line to Millersport. “It’s looking good at the moment,” said Boring, who said Thurston originally discussed working with Pleasantville, which didn’t work out.
Boring said there are no hard feelings toward Baltimore, but Baltimore wants a new waterline and customers, and Thurston just wants water. Boring said Thurston would not deny access to its Millersport waterline, but “we’re not looking for a Kroger store.” She’s aware that there’s an Agricultural Security Area near Ohio 37 and Bickle Church Road and some residents oppose a waterline being installed near the ASA, which is supposed to shield farmland from development.
“Right now the ball is in their court,” said Millersport Village Council President Dave Levacy. Thurston would own the water line, not Millersport, and Thurston would need to provide the infrastructure to Millersport at no cost to Millersport. “When they get everything ready and approved, we’ll be ready to talk,” he said.