A bill that would have laid future guidelines for a regional wastewater and sewer authority proposed by Mayor Ron Littlefield was pulled from the Legislature Tuesday, after feedback indicated certain stakeholders feared the bill would set the stage for a possible takeover of corporate water utilities by the city.
Littlefield, whose term ends next month, said he thought the opposition to his proposal was unfounded.
"It became apparent to us that there was a lot of misinformation floating around, implying that this was going to allow for a hostile takeover of other utilities," Littlefield said in a phone interview. "There's nothing in the bill that relates to that, even vaguely."
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, sponsor of the legislation, pulled the measure from the Senate floor on Tuesday at Littlefield's request. A House version of the bill had been introduced by Rep. JoAnne Favors.
The bill was sent back to the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Littlefield said that portions of the House version of the bill had been amended, particularly by District 29 Rep. Mike Carter. Littlefield said that although his plan contained no outright language geared at a utility takeover, he wanted to leave the option open for future administrations if it were in the city's best interests.
"Rep. Carter wanted to put an amendment on it that said the authority could not voluntarily or involuntarily take over any other utility," he said. "Well, that would have stymied any growth of the authority in the future."
When the proposal for the authority was first introduced by Littlefield last August, the mayor said he wasn't outrightly suggesting any municipal takeover, but did not hesitate in voicing his support of the idea.
Areas that could potentially fall under a long-term plan laid out in a request for expressions of interest for the authority included 15 municipalities within four counties in two states, whose wastewater and sewer utilities serve approximately 300,000 residents.
The bill's pulling will bear little impact on the Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority, which was formed in January and held its first meeting this month. The authority's five-member board of commissioners will continue their work of consolidating employees and entities now falling under the authority's structure.
"We're moving ahead," Littlefield said. "And we don't want to complicate the process. It's still our intent that all clean water activities in the city will be managed by the board, and it's our hope in the future that it will relate to other operations within the same watershed."