By Elise Franco
Townships in the ABC Water and Storm Water District are considering legal action to prevent Aqua Ohio and Youngstown from moving forward with an agreement that would prevent Aqua from selling water to the district.
Eric Luckage, of Albers and Albers law firm in Columbus and representing the district, sent a letter Wednesday to Aqua Ohio that said township trustees in Austintown, Canfield and Boardman are concerned with a “non- compete” clause in Aqua’s proposed water contract with Youngstown.
Youngstown wants to sell water to Aqua in a deal that includes a provision that neither entity would sell water in the other’s distribution areas in Mahoning County.
“We understand that it may preclude Aqua from selling water to the district, and that aspect is disturbing,” Luckage said in the letter.
He said the townships are considering available legal options, including a temporary restraining order and injunction.
“I assume the point would be to try to halt the instigation of that contract, but that would only happen if a judge agrees,” Luckage said. “And frankly, the reason all of that is premature at this point is because they’ve not even seen a copy of the contract [with Youngstown.]”
Luckage said he is still awaiting reply from Aqua on this letter and another sent April 25, requesting a copy of the proposed contract between Aqua Ohio and Youngstown.
Representatives from Aqua said they couldn’t comment because they haven’t yet seen a copy of the May 18 letter but did acknowledge that a letter dated April 25 was received by the company.
Youngstown City Council approved the contract Wednesday. After 30 days, the city’s board of control will vote ratify the contract for it to take effect.
The city expects to receive about $100,000 to $125,000 annually from the Aqua deal, said Youngstown Water Commissioner John Casciano. The city makes about $23 million a year in water sales.
One of the key reasons for forming the district was concerns from officials in Austintown and Boardman about a potential joint economic development district concept proposed in March 2008 by Youngstown. The city wanted to use its water system to charge a 2 percent income tax to workers in Boardman and Austintown — something township officials vehemently opposed.
Youngstown officials dropped the proposal shortly after the complaints.
Luckage said this new deal goes against what Aqua agreed to verbally and in writing, in terms of supplying water for the district.
“The townships agreed to proceed with the formation of the district, reasonably anticipating that Aqua would be the water supplier,” he said in the letter. “... My clients perceive the contract prohibition as a calculated effort by Youngstown to limit the townships and interfere with a district/Aqua Contract.”