AWA plan catches eye of Bellwood

BELLWOOD – When Altoona City Council hired a consultant recently to begin shopping its water and sewer systems for a long-term lease that could fetch a big, upfront payment, it captured the attention of more than the Altoona Water Authority, which operates those systems.

The Bellwood Borough Authority, which buys water in bulk from the Altoona authority and distributes it to Bellwood area customers, took notice, too.

But in contrast to the Altoona authority, whose very existence may be in jeopardy – and which reacted accordingly – the Bellwood authority offered a measured response on Wednesday at its first meeting since the news came out.

Any time there’s change, there may be reason for worry, said authority member Brian Kustaborder.

But the Bellwood authority has a long-term agreement with the Altoona authority, and the agreement is probably transferable – although members hadn’t discussed it, reviewed it or referred it to their solicitor as of Wednesday, he said.

Moreover, there’s plenty of time, Kustaborder said.

“It could be six months or more,” he said.

The lease might never happen, he added.

The Bellwood authority has had an invariably amicable relationship with the Altoona authority since Bellwood participated in the borrowing necessary for the bigger authority’s construction of a water treatment plant at its Bellwood reservoir 20 years ago, officials said.

The plant supplies water to a distribution tank Bellwood owns.

There have been issues, like the additional costs for transferring water from Tipton reservoir when there’s maintenance at the Bellwood reservoir or treatment plant – or in case of drought – but the authority has always been fair, said Kustaborder and the authority’s consulting engineer, Jim Bollibon of Morris Knowles & Associates.

You never know for sure about some new organization, Kustaborder said.

But the members have no concern that a lease could shut off their access to the water.

The state Department of Environmental Protection helped create the arrangement, Bollibon said – indicating that DEP wouldn’t let it fall apart.

Bollibon didn’t mention that it seems unlikely a new operator would consider dismissing a major customer, which pays debt service for the plant based on 800,000 gallons a day, the amount it used at the time of the agreement, plus a share of the costs for supplying the 230,000 or more gallons a day it actually uses now.

“The worse case?” Chairman Joe Whiteford said. “Prices go up.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.