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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Workers are seen as water floods by a tank on the Tennessee River on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Chattanooga. One year after a massive water outage, Tennessee American Water said it will not release information about the cause because of pending litigation.

One year after a massive water outage left 35,000 Chattanooga businesses and households dry for several days, officials with Tennessee American Water say they won't release information about the cause of the outage because of ongoing litigation.

"As Tennessee American continues to defend itself against the litigation, we thought it important to inform you that we will not provide the ongoing evaluation of the service interruption when completed," utility officials wrote in a statement Friday afternoon. "Tennessee American Water will continue to evaluate decisions against the backdrop of the pending litigation."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said officials with the utility had assured him as recently as Aug. 18 that a report on the cause of the outage was forthcoming.

"Over the last year, Tennessee American Water has repeatedly told me and their ratepayers that they would share its analysis of last year's water main break," Berke said. "Tennessee American Water owes us an explanation of the causes of the main break and why the report has not been released."

Within days of the outage, attorneys Van Bunch and Lee Davis filed a class action lawsuit against the utility. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of local residents and businesses, asks for compensation of any wage losses or business or economic losses as a result of the water company's "conduct, acts, or omissions." It also asks for the company to pay any court or attorney fees.

In August, the utility backed off plans to pass on to customers some costs of responding to the outage after local and state officials objected to their request to recoup those costs.

In hearings before the Tennessee Public Utility Commission, a representative from the Consumer Advocate Unit of the Attorney General's Office testified that the utility had declined to share information about the cause of the outage.

"Despite our best efforts through discovery, the company has provided little information regarding the cause of the outage," said David Dittemore, according to a transcript of testimony from a June 30 hearing. "And despite its assurance that concluding the evaluation of the water main break was a priority, no further information has been provided by the company concerning the nature or cause of the service interruption."

In responding on July 14 to Dittemore's comments, a Tennessee American Water official said the company has been responsive to requests for information about the cause of the break, but that the investigation of the cause is ongoing.

"As the analysis is being performed by an independent third party, TAWC has no definitive date for the completion of the analysis," said Kurt Stafford, the utility's director of engineering for Tennessee and Kentucky. "As Mr. Dittemore points out, there is pending litigation related to the event."

During the June 30 hearing, Dittemore challenged the utility's request to write off the costs of supplying bottled water and water trucks as a capital expense, passing the costs on to customers in its accounting.

Tennessee American Water is the state's biggest privately owned water utility, delivering water to nearly 375,000 people in the Chattanooga area. In the statement Friday, the utility said completed maintenance now provides sufficient redundancies to prevent future mass water outages in Chattanooga.

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

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