Jan. 13, 2004 – A Territorial Court judge has allowed a civil case between the Water and Power Authority and the Public Services Commission to proceed to trial. "Judge Audrey Thomas has granted permission that the matter be heard in court," the PSC's executive director, Keithley Joseph, said on Tuesday.
The case involves WAPA's objection to the commission's directive to the authority to negotiate with Caribe Waste Technologies for the purchase of water and electricity that utility officials contend they do not need or want to buy.
Thomas decided there was sufficient evidence for the case to go forward and so informed the two entities on Dec. 22. A date has not been set for the trial to begin.
The PSC voted in July 2002 to certify CWT as a small power-producing company authorized to operate in the Virgin Islands. WAPA adamantly opposed the company's certification.
WAPA also strongly opposed the PSC's directive to name a committee to negotiate an agreement with Caribe Waste Technologies and CWT's efforts to force the utility to purchase power and water to be generated by the chemical waste-processing system the company proposes to build and operate in the territory. (See: WAPA board balks at push for talks with CWT".)
WAPA attorney Samuel H. Hall Jr. went so far as to warn the PSC members that they were "buying a cat in a bag" by giving CWT the go-ahead. "We are pleading that CWT is an entity that owns no waste disposal equipment, does not own any generating equipment, owns no land in the Virgin Islands and has no finances," he said at the October 2002 PSC hearing on the matter.
Mark Augenblick, CWT chief executive officer, in a letter to the Source last October, said his company and its alliance partners are technologically and financially prepared to develop waste-processing facilities for the territory, but that their proceeding to do so depends on the utility.
Stating that "federal and territorial law require WAPA to purchase electricity from a 'qualifying facility,'" Augenblick said that "WAPA should obey the law and promptly negotiate a fair contract for the purchase of electricity and water from the CWT facility. This will allow the government's waste project to proceed." (See "CWT alliance is ready — but waiting for WAPA".)
The PSC chair, Valencio Jackson, said on Wednesday that he hates the idea of having to go to trial, but "I'm glad to see the case coming forward, because it will open the playing field for both parties to interact." Through the court's decision, Jackson added, the law will be "spelt out so there will be no need for fighting and arguments."
Attorney Frederick Watts, who has served as hearing examiner and counsel to the PSC for several years, will represent the commission.
Several calls to WAPA's executive director, Alberto Bruno-Vega, on Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned.
WAPA, meanwhile, also is appealing a recent PSC decision denying the utility a potable water rate increase until a thorough rate investigation has been conducted. Jackson said the authority's appeal may be heard at the commission's regular meeting scheduled for Jan. 30 on St. Croix, but that it is not yet on the agenda.
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