Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JEA Reopens Talks to Acquire United Water 30,000 Private Utility Customers Could See Lower Rates with Sale

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JEA Reopens Talks to Acquire United Water 30,000 Private Utility Customers Could See Lower Rates with Sale

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew I. Pinzur, Times-Union staff writer

Water and sewer rates could drop drastically for about 30,000 Jacksonville consumers if JEA seals a deal with the city's largest remaining private utility company.

The deal, estimated by a JEA spokesman at $200 million to $250 million, would buy rights to all of United Water's customers in Duval, St. Johns and Nassau counties. Almost all live in Jacksonville, where United Water controls water and sewer service in 19 pockets, including portions of San Jose, San Pablo, Ortega Hills and Arlington.

"As far as what we've purchased, United Water is far and away the largest and most expensive utility we've talked to," JEA spokesman Bruce Dugan said yesterday.

Even a deal reached next week would be held up for at least six months while government bodies at various levels deliberate, Dugan said. The Jacksonville City Council, St. Johns and Nassau county commissions and Public Services Commission are among the groups that would likely need to approve the deal, and mandatory public hearings and legal due diligence also would slow the process.

"If everything went like clockwork, you wouldn't see this deal closed until the end of the year," Dugan said. "We've still got a lot of hurdles to cross before we can make that happen, but it is still looking good. We feel like we're going to be able to come to terms."

United Water spokesman Rich Henning declined comment, except to call the negotiations "promising."

Dugan said a deal could come as early as next week, but JEA has come close to deals with United Water before, only to see negotiations break down.

"I can't say anything about it right now," said Mike Hightower, chairman of the JEA board.

United Water, a New Jersey corporation with 7.5 million customers in 17 states and Canada, has more than 33,500 water customers and 25,500 sewer customers in Northeast Florida. All of them, Dugan said, pay higher rates than JEA provides.

"If there is a deal, folks in Duval using the typical amount of water will see their bill go down 25 to 30 percent," Dugan said.

Those customers already receive electricity from JEA, and Dugan said all JEA customers would benefit from the expansion. …

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