Multinational utility provider SUEZ Water’s purchase of the Eagle Water Company will move forward after the city of Eagle and Eagle Water Company reached a $1.75 million settlement in a legal dispute over the acquisition.
SUEZ’s purchase of the private water provider was put on hold in 2019 when the city filed a lawsuit against Eagle Water, alleging Eagle Water violated a 2008 agreement in which the company agreed to give the city the “right of first refusal,” or the first opportunity for purchase if the company was being sold, the Idaho Press previously reported.
The city announced Wednesday that a settlement was reached, which will allow the deal to go through, pending Idaho Public Utilities Commission approval.
A trial date, first set for April 2021, had since been pushed to November “due to pandemic and other scheduling delays,” the city said.
Maintenance needs and a lack of demand on Eagle’s municipal water system caused the city to settle, its website says. The city said Eagle Water Company’s system needs $8.5 million worth of maintenance performed on it, $500,000 of which would go toward “immediate system upgrade costs” if the city acquired Eagle Water’s assets.
“Going into the mediation of the lawsuit, I really wanted the City of Eagle to own Eagle Water Company,” Mayor Jason Pierce said in a press release. “But after doing our due diligence, we realized that this solution is the best for all of the residents of Eagle.”
Eagle Water Company will pay the city $1.75 million in the settlement, contingent on the deal being finalized and the state utilities commission approving it.
Water bill boost
When SUEZ first filed to acquire Eagle Water Company in 2018, it planned to gradually increase residential water users’ rates —which average $12.35 per month—over the course of three years. Prices were set to reach SUEZ’s average charge in the Treasure Valley— “roughly $35” per month, spokesperson Jane Kreller told the Idaho Press. Commercial rates were to increase by an average of $120, also gradually, over that span.
Now, per the settlement, SUEZ must spread those price hikes out over five years, after which current Eagle Water customers will pay the same rates as SUEZ’s 98,000 current Treasure Valley customers — 3,200 of whom live in Eagle.
Rate increases for Eagle customers could become steeper, though. SUEZ last fallappliedto raise its rates in Idaho by 22.3%, an average of $6.61 for residential users and $23.51 for commercial. The Public Utilities Commission is reviewing SUEZ’s application, and will determine whether to grant a full, partial or no rate increase “in the near future,” said Kreller.
“If the Eagle Water Company acquisition is approved as proposed by the (commission), Eagle Water Company customers would adjust to whatever the SUEZ rates are at the time of acquisition, slowly over the course of five years,” she told the Idaho Press.
Eagle’s municipal water system, which serves 2,900, will “maintain current customer rates for City of Eagle municipal water customers,” the release said. The settlement also means the city will not go out for a bond vote and levy to purchase Eagle Water Company, as it previously would have had to.
The acquisition will give SUEZ control over the bulk of water accounts in Eagle. Eagle Water Company is the city’s biggest provider, serving 4,200 customers.