July 2, 2002 – The Public Services Commission's next mandatory rate investigation, of the Water and Power Authority, will be delayed while the PSC seeks a new hearing examiner.
In an executive session on Monday, the commission excused the designated examiner, St. Croix attorney Ronald E. Russell, at Russell's request, PSC chair Desmond Maynard said.
WAPA officials had earlier protested the naming of Russell to serve as hearing examiner, saying there was a conflict of interest because he has a pending lawsuit representing a private client against the utility.
Keithley Joseph, PSC executive director, said on Monday that Russell reported having difficulty obtaining some of the information required from the utility in order to carry out the rate investigation. "It's on hold based on WAPA's refusal to give information due to the fact that [Russell] has a pending suit against WAPA," Joseph said.
Also, Joseph said, "We just received some information that Russell is going to run for the Senate."
Russell, contacted on Tuesday, said he has not yet submitted his request to be removed from the investigation in writing and was surprised to learn that the PSC had already acted. "I am going to make the request to remove myself from the process, but I have not written the formal letter yet," he said.
He confirmed that he plans to run for the Senate but said "it's not the main reason" for his seeking to be excused as hearing examiner. "I.am removing myself from the process, and I think it's in the best interest of the community, the PSC and WAPA at this point," he said.
Legislation calling for biennial rate investigations of WAPA, the local telephone company and the two exclusive-franchise commuter ferry services — all of the industries regulated by the PSC — was passed last year.
The public hearings for the first rate review, of Innovative Telephone, were completed last week; the report prepared by a team of technical consultants was submitted to the commission on Monday.
The investigations are intended to give the PSC regulators a basis for making decisions on rates based on allowable company earnings. Findings could support lower rates, higher rates or no change in rates.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg's longtime efforts to look into the telephone company's finances led to the Senate approving the bill mandating every-other-year investigations of all regulated public utilities.
Joseph said Monday that he expects the Innovative rate investigation to be completed by the Sept. 30 deadline. However, he said, given the need to find a new hearing examiner, the WAPA investigation will not be delivered to the Senate on schedule, and the board will have to ask for an extension.
He added that finding a new examiner for the Water and Power Authority probe may be difficult "because so many people have actions against WAPA."
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