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File | The Journal Gazette

GM fights to keep its water bill from foes

Says city’s release of info could benefit competitors

– The city of Fort Wayne and General Motors are done battling over a water rate hike but squared off Tuesday instead over the disclosure of how much water the plant uses and its annual cost.

The parties involved in the water rate case – also including the city of New Haven and the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor – filed a settlement this month calling for rates to go up 33.86 percent over the next three years. That is down from the 40 percent approved by the City Council in February.

On Tuesday, all sides submitted pre-filed testimony of various witnesses for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to review. That board will vote on whether to accept the settlement and rates in the coming months.

But the bulk of Tuesday’s hearing was spent arguing over a protective order GM sought regarding confidential information.

Bette Dodd, attorney for GM, said the amount of water used by the plant and its annual water bill to the city should be kept private.

Every cost an industrial manufacturer incurs goes into the total cost of producing a product. If competitors can slowly piece together a plant’s expenses, they can try to make their own product cheaper, she said.

“Indiana law protects competitively sensitive information,” Dodd argued.

But the city of Fort Wayne is fighting the issue, saying it is required to release this information on its largest water customers every year under various bondholder agreements going back to 1997.

Chris Janak, attorney for the city, said Fort Wayne could be in breach of old bonds issues in 2003 and 2005 that are still active if this information is no longer available. He also said it could affect new bonds the city wants to issue related to the rate hike for acquiring the northern portion of the Aqua Indiana utility and maintaining the water system.

“This information has been out there for 15 years,” he said. “Now they don’t want us to ever disclose this information in the future.”

Dodd said GM didn’t know about the prior disclosures related to bonds until recently but going forward confidentiality should be granted.

She requested the city not give specific information, instead giving an overall usage and revenue number for the city’s top 10 users. The administrative law judge in the case suggested the top 10 users could be identified by name but aggregate data could be used for the bondholders’ regarding usage and revenue.

No decision was made on the issue Tuesday.