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After battle, SUEZ gets OK to acquire Eagle Water Company; Rates will rise

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Locally-owned Eagle Water Company is set to turn over the keys to French-owned SUEZ after a long-running court dispute and opposition from some customers.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission issued an order Thursday approving the sale between the two companies and the seven-year-long process to hike rates from Eagle Water Company’s lower charges to what SUEZ customers pay. This also includes a requirement for Eagle Water Company to use $590,000 to reimburse its existing 4,200 customers and help them adjust to the new rates in the first year.

The PUC said regardless of if Eagle Water Company was purchased by SUEZ, rates would have to go up to cover the costs of replacing aging infrastructure.

“Without this acquisition and SUEZ’s proposed investment, Eagle Water does not meet
requirements for firewater flow—among many requirements it fails to meet—creating significant and continuing public safety risks in Eagle Water’s service territory,” the PUC wrote in its order. “SUEZ has proven itself a capable water utility operator and we do not question that it will operate the Eagle Water system capably and expeditiously address the existing system deficiencies.”

Eagle Water Company’s customers currently pay an average of $12.35 per month. Due to the acquisition, the rates will climb up to an average rate of $40.88 per month for residential customers, the same as Suez’s other 98,000 customers in the Treasure Valley. Commercial payers will eventually pay an average of $166.19 per month.

The order noted this years-long phase-in of rates is the longest the PUC has ever approved.

A years-long process

This decision comes after years of talks and a now-settled lawsuit from the City of Eagle.

Eagle Water Company owner Robert DeShazo attempted to sell his company to the City of Eagle in 2007, but a failed bond attempt to raise the cash for the purchase sent the purchase into a spiral of failed talks between multiple mayors and investors. The city alleged this resulted in a “right of first refusal” agreement between Eagle and the water company, requiring the company to offer the company up for purchase by the city before selling it to anyone else.

A deal never closed and it remained privately owned. When SUEZ moved to purchase Eagle Water Company in 2019, the City of Eagle filed suit to try and stop the sale. Mayor Jason Pierce was in favor of purchasing Eagle Water Company during his campaign but after reviewing the capital needs and other factors he and other city council members opted to settle the lawsuit and allow SUEZ to proceed.

The Eagle Water Customers Group and the Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability opposed the purchase and filed paperwork to object with the PUC. Shelley Brock, with the CAIA, is disappointed in the commission’s decision to approve the purchase. She said the PUC should have looked at other options for the company, including a water district or using the federal infrastructure funds and a bond toward buying the company instead of it going to corporate control.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re handing that rights to that water to the two biggest water brokers on the planet, SUEZ and Veolia and here we live in Idaho which is a state so focused on rights and it’s really disturbing to me that the PUC approved this even knowing that everyone is at that mindset,” Brock said. “Once they take that water it’s very difficult to get it back.”

Brock said she is in discussions with her groups’ attorneys to see if there is more they can do to try and reverse the sale.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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