Newell Company Negotiates Future of Utilities | News, Sports, Jobs
WEIRTON – The Newell Company will spend the next six months negotiating the terms of a plan to transfer its existing water and sewer services to two local utility districts.
The decision came in a series of hearings held in Weirton on Thursday morning by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. The Newell Company, a subsidiary of the Fiesta Tableware Co., had asked the PSC to declare it “Utility in distress or failing”, and authorize the sale of its water utility assets to the Tomlinson Utility District and its sewerage assets to the Hancock County PSD.
PSC President Charlotte Lane and Commissioners Renee Larrick and William Raney sat in front of representatives from Newell Corporation, the two PSDs and others in the boardroom of the Weirton Town Hall, holding a public hearing to gather feedback from residents and a hearing of evidence on the matter.
Robert Rodecker, attorney for Kay Casto & Chaney, who represented the Newell company, said the parties discussed the matter during a break between the two hearings, and reached an agreement on how to proceed.
“The parties agreed that they would meet and negotiate at arm’s length,” he said. “It would be in the form of an agreement with each of the public service districts.”
Lane said she understood the proposal was designed to help the Fiesta Tableware Co. maintain operations, with the goal of also keeping water and sewer rates as close to current levels as possible. Rodecker agreed.
PSD representatives said they had no concerns about the outcome of Thursday’s discussion.
Officials noted that this was only a first step in the process and additional hearings may be needed. Any agreement between the parties would still require the approval of the PSC.
Two Newell residents spoke during the public hearing portion, both asking the commission why the hearings were held in Weirton instead of Newell, which is served by the utility.
Mike Nixon, representing the board of directors of the Newell Volunteer Fire Department, also claimed that the fire department should have been made aware of the proposal, saying it was recognized as the governing body of the community not incorporated.
Nixon said the fire department plans to be part of the negotiations, raising the possibility of a court injunction, if necessary.
Nixon also said he was “disrespectful” not to hold the hearings in Newell.
“The problem is in Newell, it should have been dealt with in Newell”, Nixon said.
Resident Ray Palmanteer also questioned the location of the hearing, saying state code requires hearings to be held in the service area of a public utility.
“Why are we outside of the Newell Company service area, in violation of state code?” “ He asked.
Palmanteer also asked if the Newell Company plans to implement tariff increases in the meantime.
Although no response was provided at the public hearing, Lane, speaking at the evidence hearing, said the PSC spent several days searching for a meeting location in Newell.
“We couldn’t find a place big enough” she said. “That’s why this audience is at Weirton.”
Lane noted that this was the PSC’s first hearing on a possible “In distress or in failure” utility. The process was created by the passage in 2020 by the West Virginia legislature of the Distressed and Failing Utilities Improvement Act.
(Howell can be reached at [email protected], and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)