By DAVID DUPONT & JAN McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Officials from the Northwestern Water and Sewer District will continue to take Part in talks aimed at creating a regional water authority.
The proposed Toledo Area Water Authority would purchase and operate the Toledo water plant.
Jerry Greiner, the district president, said in an interview that talk of creating a regional water district has been going on for 15 years. But Toledo officials have always insisted they were not able to sell the water plant. Now the new administration of Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz is saying that selling the plant is possible, or at least leasing the facility. That plant is in the midst of a $500 million retrofit, that’s about 60 percent done. Toledo is facing financing the rest of the job.
As Toledo does this work required by the EPA, it is facing renegotiating contracts with many of its customers, including NWWSD. That contract expires in October, 2024. Those entities are looking for alternate sources of water.
Greiner and the district’s general counsel Rex Huffman have been part of the discussion with eight other entities, including Perrysburg.
About a third of the district’s 19,000 customers receive water from Toledo, not including those who get Toledo water through Perrysburg. The district draws its water from five entities in all, including Bowling Green.
Greiner said that the possibility of the district contracting with Bowling Green to get water is still open.
At a district board meeting this morning (Jan. 25), trustees gave the nod to Greiner and Huffman to go ahead and agree to continue to be part of the planning.
No formal vote was taken. Rob Armstrong, one of the nine board members, objected. He was concerned about the district’s representation on the water authority governing board.
As outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding, the district would share a seat on the board with Fulton County. The seats are apportioned based on the percentage of Toledo’s water that an entity draws. The district draws 5 percent, and Fulton draws 3 percent, Huffman noted.
Perrysburg has its own seat, and it consumes 6 percent.
District board members indicated they would favor having Greiner or Huffman represent the district, but restrictions spelled out in the memorandum exclude them.
Armstrong said he did not want to go forward not knowing who would represent the district on the board.
Board Chair Mark Sheffer said the board’s action simply keeps them at the table to continue investigating the process.
The district would still have to negotiate with Fulton County to decide on a representative.
At the meeting, Huffman downplayed the importance of the identity of the representative. As shown by the district’s own board, he said, people set aside their parochial interests in favor of the good of the organization once they are on the board.
On Jan. 31 the entities will meet to sign off on continuing the process, but that does not commit them to being members.
Huffman said the district will have until March 15 to commit to its share, $250,000, of the cost of a study on merging the entities.
Following that a public meeting will be held to solicit comment. The final contracts will not be signed until June or so.
“We need to hear what people think about this,” Sheffer, told county commissioners later in the morning “It’s probably a 100-year decision for our rate payers.”
Representatives of the district briefed the commissioners on the proposal. They assured them that the district would remain its own entity. It would help fund a regional study and then benefit from lower water rates than customers not part of the authority.
“We will still exist as Northwestern Water and Sewer District,” Sheffer told the commissioners.
Board member Bill Hirzel asked the commissioners for their thoughts on a regional effort.
“Personally, I have a lot of questions which need to be answered,” Ted Bowlus said. “We don’t want Toledo dictating to us what we do.”
The district would need adequate representation on a regional board, Bowlus said. “We have to think about our citizens of Wood County.”
Craig LaHote cautioned about the effort becoming too political. “I think it’s important to keep politics out of it as much as possible. We all come and go,” but a regional water system will be around for decades.