Complaints of water quality prompts review of company’s operations _lowres

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- Graeme Tuminello, far left, brought samples of the water at his house to the State Capitol. State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, center, authored Senate Bill 425 to improve water conditions for Lafayette Parish residents. At right is Bryan Corcoran, Tuminello's neighbor in Shenandoah.

The state Public Service Commission is preparing to dig into the finances of Total Environmental Solutions to determine if the company is spending enough money to maintain the more than 200 small water and sewer systems it operates in Louisiana, many of which have come under fire for cloudy and smelly water.

“There continues to be this steady stream of complaints,” said Scott Angelle, a PSC commissioner who represents portions of the Acadiana area, where TESI systems serve some of the rural areas not served by municipal water and sewer providers.

Some TESI customers in rural Lafayette Parish have long complained about cloudy water laden with iron or other minerals that stain laundry and ruin appliances.

In a move prompted in part by complaints about TESI, the state Legislature this year approved a bill that calls on the Office of Public Health to develop regulations for iron and manganese in water systems, minerals that had not been strictly regulated before.

Angelle said that while those regulations are being developed, he wants the PSC to take a different tack.

The PSC has no authority over the quality of the water provided by TESI, but Angelle said the PSC does have power to set utility rates and to ensure the company is spending enough of ratepayers’ money on maintaining its water wells, filtration systems, pipes and other infrastructure.

“It’s really making sure that the revenue they are getting is being prudently invested,” Angelle said.

He said there is no timeline for the PSC investigation, and he does not want to pre judge the outcome.

“We might very well find that they’ve been prudent,” Angelle said. “... I have found that in a lot of cases the smaller systems we have in the state are having a difficult time producing a quality product for a reasonable rate.”

TESI CEO Bill Schoening said the company has not yet been contacted by PSC staff but plans to cooperate.

“We are patiently waiting to find out what complaints were received. We will address them,” Schoening said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said he and a group of other area legislators are preparing to meet next month with the board of the South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, which owns TESI.

Cortez, who was one of the authors of the bill this session for tighter water standards, said he got the impression from an initial meeting with SLECA officials that they were not aware until recently of the extent of complaints against TESI, which, while owned by SLECA, has a separate administrative structure and operates out of different offices.

“What we’ve come to believe is that TESI is a poor operator and not a good corporate citizen,” Cortez said.

SLECA General Manager Joe Ticheli said the SLECA board of directors, which serves in a dual role as the TESI board of directors, is “very concerned” about the complaints brought to them by Cortez and others.

“The board is really committed to addressing their concerns,” Ticheli said.