PUC closes West Paris investigation

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HALLOWELL — The Maine Public Utilities Commission has voted to terminate the investigation into the West Paris Water District and to recommend that the state Attorney General’s office not investigate the acts and practises of the current and former Board of Trustees.

The 2-0 decision was made as part of the Commissioners’ regular deliberation agenda on Aug. 16. at the Commission’s headquarters in Hallowell.  Chairman Mark Vannoy and Commissioner Dr. R. Williamson voted to terminate the summary investigation. Commissioner Randall D. Davis was not present for the vote.

The decision is based on the July 25 Recommended decision by the Commission following its f the nearly eight-month-long investigation into nine allegations involving the acts and practises of the West Paris Water District Trustees.

The three-member Commission had the option to accept, reject or amend the Recommended Decision that the Attorney General’s office not investigate allegations against former West Paris Water District Trustees and that the Commission terminate its own investigation and take no further action.

It had further recommended that the Attorney General’s office not investigate the practices of the current Water District Trustees.

“I think it makes sense to terminate this summary investigation with no further action taken,” said Vannoy after a brief review of the case.

Vannoy said that not only were most of the allegations aimed at former Trustees, but based on information the Commission has received, the new Board of Trustees has  made “significant changes” to the board’s practises to ensure they are compliant with state statute.

“I’m also pleased with the efforts of the new board of trustees,” agreed Williamson.

The Public Utilities Commission investigation was initiated in December of 2017 by a complaint to the Attorney’s General office from a “credible source” who raised a series of issues concerning the West Paris Water District’s Trustees and the way the District was being managed and operated.

The Attorney General’s office referred the inquiry to the PUC Commission’s Consumer Assistance and Safety Division (CASD) because of the “number and seriousness” of the allegations.

Many of the nine allegations were specific to former Trustees, but the investigation centered on the acts and practises of the current Trustees. The District’s Trustees at the time of Recommended Decision are Ralph Brown, chairman and Trustee since February, 2016, Mark Herrick and Clay Abbott, both elected at Annual Town Meeting in 2018.

No specific findings or recommendations were made against the former Trustees.

The Trustees of the West Paris Water District were questioned by the PUC on subjects ranging from aging meters, irregular billing of its 232 customers, the Pioneer Street project to replace a 1950s transit pipe that Water District trustees say repeatedly fails, internal handling of correspondence, Trustees working and being paid as employees and other matters.

The PUC opened up a summary investigation into allegations against the West Paris Water District because the information received from the interviews and reports had either opened up new questions or needed further review.

No comments were received during the 30-day comment period following the issuance of the July 25 recommended Decision. The current Board of Trustees did update the Commission on issues such as meter readings and the Pioneer Street project.

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