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PSC rebukes village
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MADISON - The Public Service Commission Tuesday reprimanded the Monticello Water Utility for failing to obtain preconstruction approval of a $345,000 well project.

Failing to obtain approval for projects above a $271,000 threshold violates state statutes and PSC rules and could have prevented the utility from recovering the project's cost in a pending water rate case, the PSC wrote the utility this week.

"Future violations may result in the disallowance of the costs of unauthorized projects and referral for enforcement action," wrote Jeff Stone, PSC's administrator of Water, Telecommunications and Consumer Affairs.

Although village president LaVerne Crooks mentioned some communication problems had occurred with PSC staff leading up to completing the well project, he did not place blame on the PSC.

"It's solely the responsibility of the village to give the PSC the information and we completely failed to do it so. We take full responsibility," Crooks said in a phone interview Wednesday.

While utilities are ultimately responsible for obtaining approvals, the PSC expects professional consultants the utilities hire to help ensure compliance. The PSC again referred the village's consulting engineers, Delta 3 Engineering Inc. of Platteville, to the Department of Public Safety and Professional Services for "appropriate action."

A call to Delta 3's owner and engineer on the Monticello project, Bart Nies, was not returned by deadline Wednesday.

Nies wrote the PSC in September explaining that the well project was not submitted to the PSC for approval because its $180,000 cost estimate was below the threshold for PSC approval.

Village clerk DaNean Naeger wrote the PSC in February that "our engineer" incorrectly interpreted all the costs associated with the well reconstruction project. Realizing the error, the village ensures that all future projects will be submitted according to PSC code, Naeger wrote.

Naeger also wrote that the village did not have a contract with Delta 3 for the well project and assured the PSC it will in future projects.

Crooks did not know that Delta 3 had been referred to DSPS for investigation or that Delta 3 was referred to DSPS in 2013 for a similar situation with South Wayne's water utility.

Regardless, Crooks said Delta 3 is the consulting engineer on a $1.8 million reconstruction of North Monroe Street, and was meeting with them Wednesday in advance of beginning the project.

The utility had Well No. 1, which went into service in 1910, reconstructed last year after the Department of Natural Resources recommended the village needed a third well because it would not have an adequate water supply if the largest volume well, Well No. 3, went out of service.

Instead of drilling a new well, the utility demolished the Well No. 1's pump house on North Main Street, replaced it with a new structure, plus a new chemical storage area and electrical improvements.

The DNR had pre-approved the project.

The DNR's 2015 Sanitary Survey noted that there were 70 properties with lead service lines that need to be replaced with compliant materials.

Crooks said the village will replace lead pipes located in city right-of-ways during street projects. Also, the Public Works Department will evaluate water service lines on private property when requested by property owners but the replacement and cost is the owner's responsibility.

"I had mine checked," Crooks said.

The PSC held a hearing Feb. 25 on the utility's 75-percent requested water rate increase.

If approved as submitted, a residential customer currently paying $19.33 monthly for 3,000 gallons of water would pay $33.75 for the same volume of water, according to PSC analysis.

The utility has not sought a rate increase since 2001, and the PSC recommended filing one in order to keep up with inflation. The utility projected a $2,671 net loss in 2016 based on then anticipated revenue of $252,591 and estimated expenses of $255,262.

Crooks said the utility now has the software to better track and forecast revenue and expenses and anticipates filing rate requests as needed instead of "every 10 or 15 years."