Graniteville water rates halted again by court order

Related: Water rate boost tied to many factors

Circuit Court Judge Jack Early this morning signed a further temporary restraining order on the new water and sewer rates for Graniteville and Vaucluse residents.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, announced that sometime this week there might be an agreement worked out for Avondale Mills to turn over the Graniteville system to the Valley Public Service Authority.

"We think a decision could be reached this week," he said. "That's what we're hoping for anyway."

Lawmakers have said a new entity overseeing the system could spur much needed improvements to the system and ultimately foster more reasonable rates.

Concerning today's temporary court order, State Sen. Shane Massey, whose district includes Aiken, said it essentially finds that the South Carolina Public Service Commission should have given 10-days published notice of the new rates that it approved in June at the request of Avondale, thereby allowing residents to adjust their watering. The order also finds that area state lawmakers had merit in their argument about proper notice not being given of the new rates and temporarily keeps Avondale from implementing them "until proper notice is given."

Mr. Massey said that a 10-day published notice now by the PSC would null and void the July 31 bills under the new rates, meaning water usage for that month would be billed on the old rates.

Mr. Massey said that after the 10-days notice, the new rates could then be imposed from that point forward.

Mr. Massey said lawmakers are now expecting a to-be-determined hearing where a more permanent injunction could be issued.

"There will have to be at some point, unless we can come to some type of an agreement with Avondale, there will have to be a full blown hearing for the judge to consider everything," Mr. Massey said, adding that Judge Early likely would be the presiding judge for that ruling as well.

Today's order states that if the circuit court issues a final ruling against the lawmakers who requested the injuction, Avondale would be able to collect on the July 31 bills and any others that come due after then.

Stephen Felker, of Avondale, said today that his company plans to appeal today's ruling, noting that they don't feel the circuit court has jurisdiction over the case.

He also confirmed that his company is working to have an agreement as early as this week with Valley Public Service Authority, but he said a closing to turnover the system still likely wouldn't happen until the end of this year.

According to today's signed court order, Judge Early found that at least temporarily Avondale is still restricted from collecting on the new rate, imposing late fees on bills that were originally due August 15 or terminating customers' water and sewer service. The order states that on August 12 Mr. Felker had issued a written statement advising water and sewer service would be cut off for those who didn't pay their bills on time.

Charles Terreni, a spokesman for the PSC, had not heard this morning that there had been a ruling and said he would need to review the order before commenting in depth. He did, however, say the PSC still plans to make its case before a judge, adding that today's ruling won't be the final adjudication of the case.

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