Berlin To Weigh Options On Pending Utility Transaction

BerlinToWeigh

BERLIN
– The sale of the Berlin electric utility seems to be on the rocks with the
Mayor and Council reportedly exploring ways to get out of the deal.

Berlin Council Vice
President Gee Williams has been one of the strongest proponents of the sale,
but he said he might propose other options at Monday’s council meeting. The
agenda for the meeting has “Electric Sale Negotiations” listed as the sixth
item to be discussed.

“I
think we have the options of just not going forward with any changes at all,”
Williams said. “I’m going to be prepared to suggest we look
at a new direction.”

Williams said there
a range of options on the table. When asked about those possibilities, Williams
said he could see selling the distribution network, but retaining the power
plant, among others.

“Another option
would be retaining distribution, operating the distribution system, and selling
the power plant,” Williams said.

Alternatively, the
town could keep the distribution, and close the power plant, neither operating
nor selling it.

The council will
make the decision on which direction to pursue at the April 9 meeting, he said.

Negotiations are
ongoing, according to Williams, with the town having just received proposed
contract changes from prospective power plant buyer Old Dominion Electric
Cooperative (ODEC).

“They have been
continuing and active and ongoing right through this week. Where they go from
here will depend on Monday night’s discussion,” he said. “The ball is back in our
court.”

Contract
negotiations over the controversial sale have been under way for months,
stretching long past the original estimated completion date of January 2007.

Williams said he
would not comment on a rumor that the town council has already begun drafting a
letter withdrawing the letters of intent to sell the utility to Choptank and
ODEC.

“I’m not going to
deny it. I’m not going to confirm it,” he said.

Councilwoman Paula
Lynch said, “I’m not going to comment on that rumor.”

Williams, who said
he did not want to speculate on what his fellow council members thought of the
state of negotiations or any options to proceed, said that would all be
discussed at Monday’s town council meeting.

“We need to make
the decision jointly,” Williams said.

Electric sale
opponent Marge Coyman, who ran against Williams for council last fall, largely
because of the electric sale, said she was excited to hear that the sale might
not go through. Coyman added that she has concerns over the future of the
utility if it remains in Berlin’s hands.

More than the town
council, Coyman said, echoing Williams’ joint decision comment, should decide
the future of the electric utility.

“What’s next and
who’s going to guide us? How are they going to make a decision?” Coyman said.
“Are they going to open up the discussion to the informed public? If we keep
this, how do we make it work?”

Coyman said she
fears the town council would “knee jerk” a decision, instead of taking all
possibilities into account. She said she would like to see the town hold a
“charrette” process, as some developers do on building projects, to gain input
from the entire spectrum of the town.

“You invite the
leaders, and any commission specifically delegated to study the issues. You
invite the public. You invite experts in their field,” she said. “You invite
the whole community to participate.”

She
added, “I would love to see a cooperative effort to do the right thing for the
town. It’s an opportunity for the town council to open the lines of
communication and do the right thing.” 

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