News Briefs: Florida City Gives Up Control of Utility Amidst Corruption Allegations

In this week’s news briefs, Miami-Dade County takes over the water and sewer operations of the city of Opa-locka, and a new California law aims to crack down on excessive water users during drought conditions.
News Briefs: Florida City Gives Up Control of Utility Amidst Corruption Allegations

Opa-locka, Florida, has granted control of its water and sewer system to Miami-Dade County following a series of illicit activities going back several years.

According to a report in the Miami Herald, Opa-locka employees waived hundreds of thousands of dollars in water bills each year for politically connected customers. Some employees even created personal under-the-table collection systems, where they turned off water connections and charged customers cash to turn them back on. The city’s Public Works supervisor Gregory Harris pleaded guilty last week to charges of taking bribes in exchange for water connections. Opa-locka’s former city manager has been charged with similar crimes.

Miami-Dade County will aim to make the utility a revenue generator again. The Miami Herald report says Opa-locka has lost an average of $1.7 million annually over the past three years.

Source: Miami Herald

Wasteful Water Users Will Pay Under New California Law
Amidst the continued drought, new legislation in California aims to crack down on excessive water users.

Water suppliers have enforced state rules that prohibit specific wasteful practices, such as over-watering lawns and hosing down driveways. Fewer agencies go beyond those mandates to penalize customers simply for using large volumes of water, but a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week is trying to change that. The new legislation requires water districts to act on any forms of excessive water use when a drought emergency is in effect.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, who wrote the bill, told the Los Angeles Times that it’s not fair for customers to be able to use as much water as they want — outside of a few prohibited actions — without penalty.

“It’s important that all Californians share in the efforts to conserve water during the drought,” he says. “It’s as basic as that.”

The law will go into effect Jan. 1, and it will require water suppliers to either establish a rate structure with a built-in way of penalizing excessive users or create an ordinance that identifies wasteful users. The law suggests fines of up to $500 for every 748 gallons of water deemed excessive.

The Association of California Water Agencies and nine other suppliers had called on the governor to veto the bill, stating in a letter that it was “an unwelcome and unwarranted intrusion” and unnecessary because agencies achieve water conservation through their own ordinances.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Seattle Company Cited For Safety Violations After Deadly Trench Collapse
A Seattle area contractor is being fined $51,500 for safety violations that led to the death of a worker in a trench collapse in January.

According to a report in the Seattle Times, Harold Felton, 36, died when the walls of a 7-foot-deep trench collapsed on him Jan. 26 while he was working on a sewer line repair. Rescuers were unable to reach him in time.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries announced last week that Felton’s employer, Alki Construction, has been cited for not putting in protective systems for trenches 4 feet deep or greater, a $35,000 penalty. The company has also been cited for five additional violations with fines totaling $16,500: not having a formal accident-prevention program; lack of a ladder, ramp or safe means of exit; undermined sidewalks and structures that weren’t supported; excavated dirt and other materials placed less than 2 feet from the trench; and no daily inspections to monitor changing soil conditions.

Source: Seattle Times

Alabama Utility Reaches Settlement With Chemical Manufacturer For Water Pollution
An Alabama water utility that sued chemical manufacturers for contributing to contamination of the Tennessee River will be receiving a $5 million settlement from one company.

Don Sims, general manager of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority, told the Birmingham Business Journal that the money will be used to install a new granular activated carbon filtration system capable of removing the chemicals from water. In its suit, the authority, which serves 10,000 customers, claimed Daikin, 3M and Dyneon had polluted the Tennessee River with PFOS and PFOA, surfactant chemicals used in industrial polymer manufacturing. The settlement announced last week was with Daikin.

“As we move into the next phase of this litigation, we look forward to announcing additional good news for the customers of the authority as we continue the fight against 3M and other corporate polluters,” the authority said in a statement.

Source: Birmingham Business Journal


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