Liberty Utilities files motion to make water-system improvements (October 7, 2016)

SAN BERNARDINO — Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley has filed a motion seeking authorization to make improvements to its water system amid the town’s eminent domain action against the company.

In court documents filed Tuesday, Liberty argued that not maintaining a water system could lead to catastrophic results. The motion is now under submission, court records show, and a decision is anticipated in the coming weeks.

System leaks not only destroy property, interrupt service, and waste an increasingly scarce resource, the court documents show, but they can also lead to dangerous conditions such as flooded roadways or unforeseen earth movements.

As a result, Liberty’s motion deemed the improvements necessary to public safety, which General Manager Tony Penna added are beneficial to current families and future generations of Apple Valley residents.

In fact, these water system improvements are already included in the current rates approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, Penna told the Daily Press via email. As an experienced utility service provider, Liberty has prudently planned to provide Apple Valley residents and businesses with quality water and reliable service.

The filing also pointed to the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval of nearly $8 million in capital improvement budgets in 2016 and 2017, which the company viewed as reason to seek judicial authorization to perform capital improvements to the Apple Valley water system totaling $7.15 (million) in 2016 and $7.95 (million) in 2017.

Town spokeswoman Kathie Martin told the Daily Press the town cannot comment on pending litigation, but she did provide the town’s legal response, which said Liberty’s filing is unnecessary, improper, and seeks to prematurely fix an award of just compensation in violation of eminent domain law.

Liberty has tacitly acknowledged, according to the rebuttal, that the CPUC did not determine that the proposed improvements are required for the water system, but approved capital budgets.

It is possible that Liberty Utilities may decide it needs to make repairs or improvements to the water system during the eminent domain action, the response argued. In doing so, Liberty Utilities may exercise its judgment in making any such improvements but it is not relieved of the obligation of showing at time of trial that the improvements were required.

Town officials believe that if Liberty is granted judicial authorization to make improvements to the system, the company will have unfettered authority to commit waste, trump up its damages, and circumvent the requirement to minimize losses.

Additionally, the town argued that Liberty’s motion seeks court-guaranteed compensation for radios, trucks, and computer equipment that do not appear to meet the threshold of required improvements, and said in the rebuttal that neither the town nor the court could make that determination without discovery.

The water system’s infrastructure includes 23 wells, 465 miles of underground water mains, numerous booster pumps and 11 storage tanks, court documents show. In 2015, the company spent nearly $7.9 million on capital improvement projects to maintain that system.

The filed motion listed replacing or repairing water mains, pipes, hydrants and valves; installing new infrastructure; treating water supplies to make sure they are sanitary and safe for bathing and drinking; and updating and maintaining security as examples of improvements.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press