Water impasse draws mediator

PAT FRIDGEN
The Antrim Township Municipal Authority water plant (at right) is located on Sherwood Drive and serves 330 customers.

With negotiations between Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority and Antrim Township Municipal Authority at an impasse, the two sides agreed to meet with a mediator to try to resolve differences on terms of Greencastle's offer to purchase the township's water system.

ATMA publicly discussed a letter from Greencastle's manager, Kenneth Womack, after the press challenged the legality of taking all issues related to the sale to executive session. Solicitor Linus Fenicle said the topic of the letter would be OK, though the board would meet later to talk about financial matters.

In April 2009 both authorities agreed in concept to the merging of the two water systems under the guise of GAFCWA. Greencastle conducted due diligence on the value of the system and made an offer in June 2010. ATMA made a counteroffer in September. At the time Antrim authority manager Brad Graham hoped the deal could be settled by the end of the year.

Antrim's water plant is in the final stages of an upgrade, with a delay for completion due to delivery of materials. The Franklin County Area Development Corporation backed a $1.25 million Infrastructure Development Grant for the improvement because Antrim did not have a committed developer ready to move in and purchase water.

"We took on the burden," FCADC president L. Michael Ross told the Franklin County Council of Governments in March. "This should be a catalyst for ATMA to sell the water system to GAFCWA. We'll repay the loan if no one comes in. We get anxiety attacks about this, but we believe it will happen."

The October meetings of the authorities resulted in one offering to schedule a mediation session.

Womack wrote that the outstanding issues between them were significant and would require additional agreements in principal and in fact. He recommended Ross act as an intermediary to bring everyone to a similar mindset and Ross had agreed to the attempt.

The plan was to have both chairmen, vice chairmen and managers bring their comments.

ATMA's Bob Schemmerling was open. Rodney Eberly was skeptical.

"They're just rolling the barrel out now."

Bob Coladonato countered that it was a last ditch effort to see if an agreement could be reached. Fenicle noted any decision would not be binding.

"Mike has too much interest in this to be the mediator," Eberly insisted.

Graham was confident the suggested meeting was not a stalling tactic. All the ATMA members, including Elwood Myers and Chad Murray, agreed to the session.

The waiting game

GAFCWA has operated with just three members this year, not filling two vacancies during the negotiations process.

Vice chairman Robert Miller explained, "We haven't found anyone who wants to accept the positions, and at the same time, if the deal goes through, there may be people on ATMA who would like to fill those spots."

He declined to say why negotiations had stalled. He was anxious to reach an agreement. "If we can resolve a few differences, it could happen any time."

The ATMA members did share that the purchase price and representation on the regionalized authority were their top concerns. Eberly and Myers said Greencastle should have already appointed two people to fill their roster.

But in the long haul, Eberly wanted ATMA fighting for township representatives on the board.

Schemmerling responded, "It's polite of them (to wait). We understand why and it's appreciated."

He continued that the whole merge was complicated and time was needed to work out the details. He joined Eberly in wanting representation from both municipalities to ultimately benefit all of the water customers.

GAFCWA has 1,700 borough customers and 455 township customers. Its water plant is permitted to process 1.6 million gallons daily. ATMA has 340 customers. When the water plant is finished, it will be able to handle 800,000 gallons daily.