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Cleveland responds negatively to potential Westlake water switch

By Kevin Kelley
Westlake

The city of Cleveland on Thursday doused cold water on Westlake’s intention to switch water suppliers, saying the city’s engineering and financial assumptions on the benefits of buying water from Avon Lake Municipal Utilities (ALMU) are erroneous.

Cleveland commissioned Arcadis to analyze engineering reports by HNTB, another engineering firm, on a potential Westlake shift of suppliers. The 119-page Arcadis report disputes several elements of the HNTB study.

The report was delivered to Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough and City Council members Wednesday and released to the public Thursday.

Cleveland officials also hinted they would play hardball on transition issues if Westlake makes a switch. The Arcadis report stated that Cleveland Water will enforce its current water service agreement with Westlake, including the requirement of five years’ notice to separate from the system.

Westlake officials, including Clough, had talked about purchasing water wholesale from both ALMU and Cleveland Water to ensure redundancy of supply. But in a related press release, Cleveland Water said it would not supply back-up service to Westlake residents and businesses due to pressure compatibility, water quality and resource issues.

Cleveland also indicated it intends to hold Westlake financially accountable for costs associated with a separation from its system. The costs to sever Cleveland Water connections to Westlake and reestablish service to the neighboring cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted and Rocky River would be approximately $17 million, the press release stated.

“We began our review of the report prepared by HNTB for the city of Westlake by trying to understand what impact Westlake’s departure would have on other communities in the CWD system,” said Darnell Brown, chief operating officer for the city of Cleveland. “Very quickly, we realized the negative impact to other customers and communities was quite large.”

The Arcadis report states that Westlake’s capital costs, including costs that it says must be paid to Cleveland, to build its own water system will likely be more than $47 million, not the $17 to 19 million estimated by HNTB. Arcadis also concludes that quarterly water bills for Westlake residents will be 18 to 20 percent higher than what Cleveland Water bills.

Brown concludes that the best choice for Westlake is to remain with Cleveland Water.

Clough told West Life that the response by Cleveland does not deter his city from continuing to pursue the purchase of water from ALMU.

The Westlake mayor said HNTB has been asked to provide a formal rebuttal to the statements made in the Arcadis report that was commissioned by Cleveland Water. But Clough added that he remains confident in HNTB’s conclusion that a supplier switch is feasible.

“We didn’t spend a year doing this study not feeling that it’s reliable,” Clough said.

Clough said he was somewhat surprised that Cleveland appeared to be so concerned about losing a single suburb out of the 70 communities that it serves.

“The best way to keep their customers is to provide good service to their customers,” Clough said.

The mayor said that Westlake would continue to keep the lines of communications open with Cleveland Water.

Westlake Ward 5 Councilman Ken Brady, a strong proponent of making a supplier switch, told West Life he was not surprised by Cleveland’s response.

“I think we all expected the city (of Cleveland) would object to us leaving and put up hurdles to it,” Brady said.

“If I was in their shoes, I think I’d do the same thing,” he said, adding Cleveland Water does not want to lose customers or have other communities follow Westlake’s departure from the system.

Although Cleveland’s strong stance against a Westlake switch was not unexpected, Brady said the city’s statements and the Arcadis report will result in Westlake officials re-examining the proposal to switch suppliers.

“We’ve got to take a closer look at it to see if there’s any validity to what they say,” Brady said. The Ward 5 councilman said the Arcadis report might cause Westlake to modify its plans but would not necessarily derail them. He said he expects negotiations between Westlake and Cleveland city officials on the matter to continue.

Westlake officials have said a switch of water suppliers under a newly created Westlake water department would result in lower water bills with enough money left over to pay for replacement of aging water pipes. Several instances of what Westlake officials say was poor Cleveland Water Department response to waterline breaks also prompted examination of a supplier switch.

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