Water Wars: MAWSS Sued Over Rate Increase in Spanish Fort

Low water pressure has forced the closure of restaurants along the Causeway.
Low water pressure has forced the closure of restaurants along the Causeway.

MOBILE, Alabama (WKRG) – Adding to the troubles already facing the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS), the Spanish Fort Water System (SFWS) has filed suit over a proposed rate increase.  In the late September filing, SWFS accused MAWSS of being in breach of contract by increasing the wholesale price of water it supplies to SFWS without showing “a demonstrable increase in costs and shall not include increased capitalization of the seller’s system.”

MAWSS has supplied water to Spanish Fort Water since 2001 through water mains that run along the causeway.  In December 2016 and January 2017, water lines feeding the eastern shore system ruptured, resulting in loss of water service until temporary lines were installed. Repairs related to the January break have still not been completed after the new pipe being installed collapsed.

In their argument, SFWS contends that, in a meeting with MAWSS officials regarding those repairs, MAWWS stated that SFWS would have to pay for the repairs “one way or another”.  One of the options proposed by MAWSS was by “paying an increased water rate to cover the cost of the project”, according to the suit.  SFWS points to the 2008 Water Purchase agreement with MAWSS which states, “The water transmission line along the causeway shall remain the property of MAWSS and any maintenance to the line will be the responsibility of MAWSS.”

SFWS alleges that MAWSS has not increased the wholesale price to any other system it supplies to and that the proposed increase is “unjust and inequitable.”

Late Friday afternoon, MAWSS issued a statement which read, in part:

Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS) has agreed to postpone a rate increase for Spanish Fort Water until December 1, to allow further discussion with the Baldwin utility. The decision was made at the Board’s October 11 meeting.  MAWSS notified Spanish Fort in April that the wholesale water rate to the Baldwin County utility would increase by $2.19 per thousand gallons effective October 1. MAWSS based the increase on an outside Cost of Service Study that indicated the rate it was charging Spanish Fort, $1.56 per thousand gallons, was not covering the utility’s cost of providing water. The new rate also included the cost of repairing the water line that only serves Spanish Fort customers. The cost of that repair is just over $3 million dollars.”

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