Democracy in action: the neighborhood Aqua meeting

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Aqua North Carolina customers met with politicians last Friday to voice their concerns about the private water company’s practices.  Sharon Decker, homeowner association president for Ashe Plantation, located on 218, hosted the meeting at the Olde Sycamore Golf Plantation clubhouse.

Residents of Mint Hill, Charlotte, Union County, and Huntersville were present.  John Aneralla and Jeff Tarte came to listen to their concerns and provide information. Katie Hicks from Clean Water for North Carolina also attended.  Decker said the president of Aqua wanted to attend the meeting, but the HOA board decided the focus of Friday’s meeting was talking with the politicians.  The president has been invited to the next meeting of the neighborhoods sometime in September.

“What we figured out is just one person, one community, cannot make a difference.  But if we work together and go through our representatives and our soon-to-be elected representatives, then they have the power to help us,” said Stan Coleman in his introduction of the meeting.

Complaints voiced include low water quality.  Water can be black, clogging pipes and dramatically lowering the life cycle of water-based appliances.  The high rates are a serious issue for residents.  Two-person families see unexplainable water and sewer bills of over $150.

“This neighborhood’s been dealing with this whole situation for a long time,” said one resident.

“Our hardness is in the 15-18 range – I them tested by an outside lab.  Mecklenburg just released its findings.  The hardness of their water is 1.8,” reported another resident.

David Sims pointed out Aqua’s corporate strategy of rate increases through neighborhood acquisition.  As Aqua takes over areas, they request a large rate increase – 75 percent – for improvements, and settle for the 12 or so it gets from the state.  The goal seems to be to receive any rate increase it can get.

“It turned a lightbulb on for me.  I wondered why…and now I know how they do it,” said Sims.

Aneralla and Tarte, Republicans, were running for the State Senate seat of District 41.  Both candidates are businessmen who favor less government regulation to benefit businesses.  The people asked both candidates what they thought about the Aqua situation and government regulation.

“I am definitely a pro-business, anti-regulation guy,” said Aneralla, “This is clearly one of those times when government regulation is needed…There really is no free market here.”

Tarte indicated that “more homework” needed to be done to find out why Aqua serviced these areas and what justified rate increases.  He also agreed that this was not a free market situation.

Aneralla brought Bill Brawley, Republican member of the N.C. House of Representatives, to provide his knowledge as a member of the Public Utilities Committee.  Brawley suggested articulating a solid solution and working for that.  He also encouraged using such N.C. entities as the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.

Tarte explained his experiences dealing with water utilities in Cornelius.  He created a water task force, a team of utility professionals, engineers, and elected officials to solve his town’s issues with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities and replace 160,000 water meters.

Coleman and Decker will continue to organize neighborhoods after the District 41 election.  For more information, contact them at scoleman41@carolina.rr.com and decker1946@gmail.com.  The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for September.

Photos by Amanda Waters.

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