Walden's Ridge marks one year of Hixson Utility water partnership

Walden's Ridge marks one year of Hixson Utility water partnership

May 3rd, 2016 by Alex Green in Business Around the Region

It's been a year since Walden's Ridge Utility District entered into an exclusive, 10-year water purchasing contract with Hixson Utility District, and officials with the mountain-top public utility marked the occasion this week.

Ron West, Walden's Ridge Utility District general manager, said Monday the last year with Hixson Utility has been a success, following the early exit last year from a 40-year purchasing agreement with Tennessee American Water Co.

"We've got a lot of compliments on the water, the great taste of it," said West.

For 50 years, Walden's Ridge Utility District retrieved its own water through pumps at the foot of Signal Mountain. But contaminants forced Walden's Ridge Utility officials to forgo their old source and seek out a new provider a little more than a decade ago.

Walden's Ridge Utility signed a 40-year agreement to begin purchasing water from Tennessee American in 2003, but ended that relationship only nine years later, citing frustrations with Tennessee American over rate increases.

Officials with the mountain utility said they were contractually guaranteed input on any proposed rate increases, but were later denied input by Tennessee American Water, and were forced to hand down increases to their customers.

Tennessee American officials said they were simply handing down mandatory increases imposed by the Tennessee Regulatory Authority.

But Walden's Ridge Utility announced in 2011 they were opting out of their contract with Tennessee American.

After filing suit against Tennessee American Water to settle how much it was required to repay the company for infrastructure, including a pump and water lines up the mountain, Walden's Ridge Utility and Tennessee American settled on a $3.5 million payback.

Following the settlement, Walden's Ridge Utility inked a 10-year deal with Hixson Utility District, the public water located in the northern reaches of Chattanooga.

Hixson Utility now sells water to Walden's Ridge Utility at the bottom of Signal Mountain, and Walden's Ridge pumps the water up the mountain to serve its customers. Walden's Ridge Utility also recently secured an AA- credit rating.

Hixson Utility District serves around 25,000 customers total, and is at around only half capacity, officials say.

West said Monday that Hixson Utility has committed to providing 5 million gallons of water a day to Walden's Ridge Utility District, which would enable Walden's Ridge Utility to, in turn, provide water service to nearby Signal Mountain, which hosted town hall meetings last fall about the possibility of selling its water system to Tennessee American Water Co.

Signal Mountain has yet to issue a request for proposals, however, even though both Tennessee American and Walden's Ridge Utility District have expressed interest in serving the town of Signal Mountain.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.