V.I. Water and Power Authority customers with billing complaints should not send them to the V.I. Public Services Commission because the PSC lacks jurisdiction, according to a recent V.I. Superior Court ruling.
On Dec. 7, Superior Court Judge James Carroll III sustained WAPA’s appeal of a 1993 PSC order directing WAPA to change customer Granada Del Mar’s bill, vacated the PSC order and directed the PSC to dismiss del Mar’s complaint.
Carroll based his ruling on the 2008 V.I. Supreme Court decision, V.I. Public Services Commission v. V.I. Water and Power Authority, *which, Carroll wrote, "the Public Services Commission has jurisdiction only over rate-setting and not over billing disputes." (*See editor’s note at story’s end.)
The PSC issued a statement during its regular meeting Tuesday, announcing it could no longer address WAPA billing issues.
PSC attorney Boyd Sprehn said WAPA informed the PSC of the court ruling very recently. Now the PSC is reviewing what steps it will take internally to deal with those matters that are currently before it—and funds held in escrow for consumers with billing disputes prior to this ruling—so that an orderly transition in light of the court’s ruling may take place, according to the PSC’s statement.
Meanwhile, the commission continues to have authority over billing and other disputes with the rest of the public utilities under its auspices, including Vitelco, Innovative Cable TV and all of the territory’s ferry services, according to the statement.
“Consumers are encouraged to contact the Commission with any issues related to the other regulated utilities,” the PSC urges in its statement.
The 17-year old dispute began in 1993, when del Mar filed a complaint with the PSC complaining a faulty water meter led to inaccurate water bills. The PSC found for Granada and ordered WAPA to correct the customer’s account. The PSC then denied WAPA’s motion for reconsideration, and WAPA filed an appeal in Superior Court.
Nothing in the short ruling or accompanying memorandum of appeal indicates why 17 years passed between appeal and ruling. In the intervening years, WAPA and the PSC fought several legal battles on the limits of the PSC’s authority over WAPA. Then, in 2008, the nascent V.I. Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions in WAPA’s favor in V.I. Public Services Commission v. V.I. Water and Power Authority.
"We will affirm the trial court’s decision that PSC’s power over WAPA is limited solely to the power to fix rates…. PSC does not have the power of general oversight over WAPA’s actions," reads the V.I. Supreme Court decision, in part.
To whom can customers now appeal WAPA billing disputes? One option may be to seek redress with WAPA’s own governing board, which has statutory authority over all WAPA matters—from hiring and firing its director to approving or rejecting all WAPA contracts and expenditures.