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Aquarion seeking rate hike

Connecticut's biggest supplier announcing it wants a
 14 percent rate increase.

The Aquarion Water Co. of Connecticut this week notified the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) of its intent to request a $16.1 million, or 13.95 percent, increase in water service revenues.

The company will file an application with the DPUC on March 31. The DPUC is expected to announce its decision in September. If it approves the increase, water rates for Aquarion's customers in Fairfield, New Haven and Litchfield counties will increase Oct. 1.

Aquarion provides water to 585,000 customers in 35 municipalities, including Stratford, Bridgeport, Fairfield, Easton, Monroe, Trumbull, Shelton and Seymour.

Stratford State Rep. Lawrence Miller (R-122) said the request comes at a tough time for consumers already hit hard by increases in gasoline and heating fuel costs.

"It's a big increase," he said. "You don't like to see it just when the economy is starting to get a little better.

"I have mixed emotions," Miller said of the potential hike. "They get their product from God...but then again, they have not had a rate increase in a long time and I understand they need the funds to pay for infrastructure improvements. I have not seen the numbers, but I'm sure they will be gone over thoroughly.

"They've provided good service and the water quality is very high," he said.

State Sen. George "Doc" Gunther, R-21, said he has some lingering concerns about what Aquarion has done with funds derived from the sale of large parcels of land around reservoirs throughout the region. However, he said he has not yet seen the details of the rate request.

"I'll have to see what the numbers are before I can comment on whether it's justified," Gunther said.

The typical residential family of four currently pays about $1.04 for an estimated 200 gallons of water it uses each day, or $95.25 for 18,000 gallons of water used each quarter. If the application is approved, that family will pay about $1.24 a day or $112.92 a quarter.

Charges to municipal fire departments for water to service fire hydrants will increase by about 6 percent.

Charles V. Firlotte, Aquarion president and chief executive officer, said the company needs the rate hike primarily for its "water utility infrastructure such as pump stations, regional pipeline, water mains, storage tanks and other equipment...as well as the need to set aside reserves to replace or upgrade future plant and equipment.

"We delayed asking for a rate increase as long as possible," Firlotte said, "but since 1996 Aquarion has spent $151.5 million for infrastructure improvements through 2003 in its Connecticut area, of which $87.8 million was invested in Eastern Fairfield, New Haven and Litchfield Counties."