Officials oppose measure to abolish CUC

COMMONWEALTH Utilities Corp. officials are not in favor of the Senate measure that would replace CUC with two independent autonomous agencies, saying it will affect water, power and sewer rates.

The Senate Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications chaired by Sen. Sixto Igisomar met with CUC officials on Friday to discuss Senate Bill 20-39 which was introduced by Sen. Paul A. Manglona.

It proposes to replace CUC with two autonomous public corporations to separately manage and control the power service and water service systems, and create one elected consolidated commonwealth utilities board for the two public corporations

CUC Executive Director Gary Camacho, chief financial officer Antonio B. Castro and board members Ignacio Ike Perez and Weston Thomas Deleon Guerrero said they are opposed to the bill’s passage.

Castro noted that the bill does not address federal Stipulated Orders 1 and 2 requirements.

He added that CUC went through some “difficult times” in the past decade that resulted in the issuance of the stipulated orders to ensure operation and funding requirements are properly managed and sustained according to applicable laws.

He said the current CUC leadership has made significant strides in developing strategic plans for water and wastewater that address current and future water and wastewater requirements for the CNMI.

If the measure is enacted, Castro said it will have an estimated impact of around $4 million.

He added that 82 percent of the total revenue earned by CUC is from power while 13 percent is from water and only 5 percent from wastewater.

Castro said elected officials will have to be “prepared to answer the cries from the public and the ratepayers for any additional costs levied on them” if the bill becomes law.

Deleon Guerrero said he finds the bill “insulting” as he was just confirmed by the Senate and has just started working with the CUC management.

He said if the bill becomes law, there is the potential that service fees will go up which will affect consumers.

Perez, who chairs the Commonwealth Development Authority board and is its representative to the CUC board, said CDA “has an excellent board, and it has proactive members and the same thing can happen with CUC as long as CUC has pro-active members of the board.”

Camacho said CUC is now improving and becoming better and the only thing that is missing is a strategic plan.

“And that’s what we’re doing now — to bring in the master plan and the [federally funded] Leidos [Engineering LLC] plan to see how it is going to work and what we expect to accomplish and how we are going to achieve it.”

Igisomar asked CUC officials to submit a more detailed written report expressing their opposition to Senate Bill 20-39.

“We want to make sure we hear from CUC before we make a determination on whether to move forward with the measure or take a step back and reevaluate it, in order to see if an alternative bill can be put in place or if we should just do nothing about it,” the senator said in an interview.

Igisomar said he agrees with CUC, adding that there are other solutions.

“Either privatization or the creation of a cooperative. But can we actually handle it? It means a lot of responsibility and accountability on the part of the CNMI government. Can the executive and Legislature provide support. Are we ready for any changes or hiccups? I’m not saying this bill is wrong, but there have got to be other ways and that’s why I told CUC to get their act together so that we can all be moving in the same direction.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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