APPLE VALLEY — Scores of residents turned out Monday for two public hearings on the proposed sale of a local water supplier to Algonquin Power Company's Liberty Utilities. More than 150 people crowded the conference room at Apple Valley's Development Center at 2 p.m. Monday. A night session at 6 p.m. attracted even more people.
Algonquin has made an offer to buy the owners of Apple Valley Ranchos Water Co. — Park Water Co. and Western Water Holdings LLC. The proposed sale faces approval or denial by the California Public Utilities Commission and would include payment of $325 million, including assumption of $80 million in debt, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates said.
"Carlyle recognized the short-term ownership was an issue," Robert Dove, managing director of The Carlyle Group, told the Daily Press during a break in the first of two sessions. "I think (Liberty) would be a good steward of the asset." The Carlyle Group is the parent company of Park Water Co. and Western Water Holdings LLC.
Liberty was interested in a 20-year operations tenure, Dove said. He was among those who spoke in opening remarks with President David Pasieka and Senior Vice President of Operations Brian Ketcheson of Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley Town Councilman Scott Nassif and Ting-pong Yuen, from the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, an independent office of the CPUC that strives to obtain the "lowest possible rates" for ratepayers.
"Something threatens to stand in the way of the town's success," after some recovery from the recession, Nassif said. "This is about relentless increases in water rates that will only be exacerbated by the purchase."
Support for officials and citizens who spoke on the Liberty Utilities offer seemed evenly divided among the 150-plus in attendance during the afternoon hearing, judging by the volume and enthusiasm of applause. But some comments strayed heavily into the pending rate case for Apple Valley Ranchos that will set water rates for this year, 2016 and '17, and lightly into other issues. Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Kim said in her introduction she did not have the authority to rule on issues in the rate case.
Interestingly, Kim enabled officials to address their opening remarks to the audience by having the podium turned toward the crowd, unlike in past CPUC hearings, and had it reversed to have public comments addressed to her.
Comments emphasized local control and responsiveness — a point both sides tried to make in their favor.
"Many who spoke for and against were well-informed, and that was encouraging," AVR General Manager Tony Penna said.
But one speaker's comments reflected a weariness over the bickering.
"I would like to see something constructive come out of the water company squabble," Jaime L. Johnson said.
In related news, trial will begin Wednesday in Missoula, Montana over that city's attempt to acquire by condemnation a sister water company to AVR, Mountain Water Co. How that trial ends may affect Park Water's structure and business model going forward, with some saying higher local rates will be a result.