Frederick Co. takes over troubled water company


BRADDOCK HEIGHTS -- Frederick County government temporarily has taken over operation of one of the county's last private water companies while Maryland's Public Service Commission mulls the small utility's future.

Owners of Braddock Water Co., which serves about 350 customers atop Braddock Mountain, west of Frederick, withdrew from the operation last week after dropping their appeal of a Public Service Commission decision to revoke the utility's franchise.

In a rare move, the PSC decided to withdraw the water company's franchise in September after the utility failed to satisfy a December 1992 order that it secure leases to water sources, fix a damaged water storage tank roof and bury water lines to protect them from freezing and breaking in the winter.

"It's unusual for the Public Service Commission to revoke a franchise," said Frank Fulton, a PSC spokesman. "We've only done it once before, to my knowledge, and that was in the mid-1980s, and that was another water company."

David Yinger, owner of Braddock Water Co., could not be reached for comment.

"Most people here are grateful that the county has taken over and is trying to bring the system up to a higher standard," said Mark Bello, president of the Braddock Heights Community Association. "Everyone here is concerned. There are a lot of older people in this community, and we've had problems for a long time."

The PSC became involved after many customers in recent years complained about poor service and other problems with getting water.

Braddock Water Co. appealed the PSC decision, and a hearing was scheduled for March 23. The day before the hearing, however, the company withdrew its appeal and ceased providing water services despite notice from the PSC that a utility may not abandon or discontinue operation unless authorized by the commission, Mr. Fulton said.

It is unlikely that the PSC will seek civil penalties against the company, he said.

The commission is considering what final action to take -- such as appointing a new operator -- and is expected to decide within two weeks. Frederick County officials had said they were not interested in taking over the water company.

Wendy Kearney, assistant Frederick County attorney, said the county expects to be reimbursed for its efforts, which have included repairing and cleaning tanks. Last week, the carcass of "a small animal" was found floating in one of the water tanks. Residents have been advised to boil water until further notice.

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