By Kevin Kelley
While most of the talk lately about Westlake’s water supply has involved switching to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities as the new supplier, Cleveland’s Division of Water shouldn’t be counted out yet.
During a Nov. 15 Westlake City Council committee meeting at which were discussed the results of an engineering study evaluating a possible switch to ALMU, Ward 1 Councilman Ed Hack advocated that Westlake set up its own water department and purchase water wholesale from the city of Cleveland.
“I would prefer not to reach all the way into Avon Lake to do it,” Hack later told West Life, adding that Cleveland ought to have the first opportunity to be the supplier.
Making a total switch could be complex, as it would involve around 50 connections and disconnections between the Westlake and Cleveland water systems, according to the HNTB Ohio engineering study commissioned by Westlake. How such a switch would affect Westlake’s neighbors is not fully known, but Hack expressed concern that surrounding communities could suffer adverse effects if his city switches to ALMU.
Ward 5 Councilman Ken Brady, perhaps the biggest proponent of making a switch, said he, too, would be willing to consider Cleveland Water as a wholesale supplier at a competitive rate. Brady told West Life he would like Westlake to have two water transmission lines into the city, one from Cleveland Water and one from ALMU.
Much of the frustration with Cleveland Water stems from a series of service-related problems, including an August 2006 rupture of a waterline at Hilliard Boulevard and Coe’s Post that flooded the basements of more than a dozen residents. City officials maintain that much of the damage to residents’ basements could have been prevented if the Cleveland Water Department had responded more quickly to the emergency.
Shortly before that incident Brady ran into Dave Marquard, a Westlake business executive and ALMU board member. Marquard asked if Westlake had considered switching to ALMU.
Cleveland officials say they have begun to address service-related issues. Last month, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced several personnel appointments in his city’s Department of Public Utilities. Most of the appointments were made as part of a reorganization effort to improve customer service in the city’s Division of Water, which serves Westlake and 69 other communities in Northeast Ohio.
“My primary goal is to create a new organizational structure that is more efficient, delivers excellent customer service and is more accountable to customers,” Jackson said in a Nov. 15 press release.
The release also noted that Cleveland Water reduced average wait times to its call center to approximately 30 seconds, down from almost 16 minutes in January.
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said the issue involves more than service. He and council believe that by creating a water department, Westlake can provide residents with water at a less expensive rate than Cleveland offers and have money left over to replace aging water system infrastructure. Currently, the city funds most waterline replacements out of its general fund.
Clough, who at the behest of council recently asked ALMU to put together a potential water supply agreement, said he would be open to having Cleveland Water as a second supplier.
“I’ve always left that door open to them,” he said, adding that he’s maintained personal contact with his Cleveland counterpart on the matter.
How having two suppliers of water would work is not completely clear, but a hypothetical scenario might involve Westlake buying the majority of its water from ALMU while continuing to purchase some from Cleveland Water in order to maintain a second transmission line into the city for the sake of redundancy.
Jason Wood, the recently named public affairs chief for Cleveland’s Department of Public Utilities, told West Life that Cleveland Water has offered to be a wholesale supplier to Westlake. That was one of several proposals Cleveland Water made after Westlake began exploring a switch to ALMU, Wood said.
“They were all designed so we could continue the relationship between Westlake and Cleveland Water,” he said.
Whether or not Cleveland Water would be willing to sell water to a Westlake water department as a wholesale supplier was hypothetical, Wood said, and would have to be looked into. Wood said his department was still studying the HNTB study.