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Cochran explains PSC's Dalewood sewer decision

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
June 10, 2002
Last week, the central district commissioner of the Mississippi Public Service Commission announced the certification of the Dalewood Sewer District.
Nielsen Cochran said the PSC granted the certification so that a new sewer system could be established in Dalewood Shores Lake.
Cochran said the new sewer system is needed in the area. He met with The Meridian Star editorial board last week to discuss the decision.
The Meridian Star: What was the problem with the sewer system in the Dalewood area that sparked the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisor to establish the new sewer district?
Nielsen Cochran: It was a combination of several different things. For example, there were instances where some residents had no sewer system just a pipe from the house to the lake.
Then you had some who had some old septic tanks, where the affluent that was leaving the tank was as raw as it was going into the tank. These are the types of systems that are out there.
Now granted, there were some public witnesses who said their plants were new and they had spent a lot of money and their systems were operating properly. They said they weren't contributing to the problem and didn't feel they should be forced to tie into a centralized system.
That's a great question, but again, that's not a question that the PSC could answer or have the authority to answer because in the sewer use ordinance passed by the Dalewood Sewer District commissioners the district has that authority.
The Meridian Star: What is your jurisdiction?
Nielsen Cochran: What we regulate from a traditional regulatory utility standpoint is a company that is owned by an individual, or a group of individuals, for profit. Or, if that company is owned by stockholders, like Mississippi Power Company and Entergy. But you take someone like the North Lauderdale Water Association, we have no jurisdiction over an association. You have an electrical power association that serves in this general area and we have no jurisdiction over them either.
The Meridian Star: So, then, who has final say over the rates that those individuals charge?
Nielsen Cochran: Theoretically, according to the Legislature, if you're served by an association you pay in your rates a membership fee. That makes you a part owner. By state law, there are either quarterly, semi-annual or annual association meetings that you the members are notified of and invited to.
There, the members elect the board of directors. The board of directors elect the chairman of the board. So, theoretically, the members are the regulatory body of how that system is run. The Legislature has always exempted them from our jurisdiction.
The Meridian Star: Why, then, did this group have to come before the PSC to receive approval?
Nielsen Cochran: State law says that if any entity is going to provide any type of utility service to anyone, they have to come to our commission to get a certificate in order to operate that utility company.
And there are two or three reasons for that.
One is to make sure, for example, that the Dalewood Sewer District is not overlapping into someone else's certificated area to serve so you don't have two or three utility companies serving the same service in the same area and duplicating the costs.
We are the records keeper, if you will, of the certificated geographical area where utility services will be provided by each and every utility company. That's the main reason.
Secondly is for the sake of competition. At one point in time, for example the telephone industry, there used to one certificate to one telephone company in Mississippi to provide statewide telephone service. That was AT&T. Now there's over 400 certificates issued to provide competing telephone service in Mississippi.
But they still have to come to us even though there is competition to make sure that we have on record who has the authority to provide what utility service in what location of our state.
They have to come to us to get a certificate. And the only question that we have to answer is whether or not there is a need for that service. In this case, yes there is the need.
The Meridian Star: What alternatives do the opponents have now that the PSC has granted the certification?
Nielsen Cochran: There is an option for them to pursue. Any final order like this that is issued by the PSC can be appealed to the local chancery court to protest their disagreement with our order.
They then can either uphold our order or send it back to us. If our order is upheld by them, then it can be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. So, you certainly have the legal due process that the residents can exercise.