Nichols files legislation to help water customers

waterThree different times since 2007, Henderson County residents have battled what they called unfair water and sewer rate hikes by investor-owned utilities, often fighting a system that seems geared toward supporting the big guys.

Now, customers could be getting some help thanks to legislation filed last week by State Senators Robert Nichols (who represents Henderson County) and Kirk Watson.

The two senators co-authored a bill that would “ensure that customers have an advocate in cases over excessive rates.”

The legislation reflects the work of Senate subcommittees led by Senators Nichols and Watson in 2012. These subcommittees held hearings on steep increases in water and sewer rates that were imposed by investor-owned utilities. The policy recommendations regarding these rapidly escalating water and sewer rates, reflected in S.B. 567, will bring relief to Texans living in rural and unincorporated areas of the state.

The legislation:

  • Transfers economic regulation of water and sewer utilities from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC);
  • Establishes IOU classifications based on number of connections; and
  • Gives the Office of Public Utility Counsel (OPUC) authority to intervene in water rate cases on behalf of residential and small commercial customers.

This is the fourth consecutive Legislative session that Nichols has tried to change the system.

“There is no incentive under the law for (water utilities) to ask for a reasonable rate or to settle quickly,” he told me in 2011. “I am trying to create an incentive.”

Henderson County has been at the forefront in the battle between consumers and water utilities, with area residents fighting rate increase requests by Monarch Utilities Inc. (twice) and Lakeshore Utility Company.

The Lakeshore battle saw a judge grant interim rates for the first-time ever in September 2010, and the Monarch battle gave rise to the grassroots group Texans Against Monopolies Excessive Rates (TAMER), which has grown into a powerful lobbying organization.

TAMER Chairman Orville Bevel said, “Of course we are happy the bill has been filed and we will be working with the legislature to get it passed.”

Obituary: James Harold Rains

James Harold Rains
James Harold Rains

Services for James Harold Rains, 74, of Brownsboro, are scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 at Eubank Chapel with Bro. Lee Evans, Bro. Bob Sexton, and Bro. Danny Bristow officiating, under the direction of Eubank Funeral Home, Canton.

Burial will be in Haven of Memories, Canton, Texas. He passed away Feb. 6, 2013 in Tyler, Texas.

Mr. Rains was born Nov. 5, 1938 in Florence, Ala., to Harold “Jack” and Bessie Cramer Rains.

James grew up in Rogersville, Ala. and served in the National Guard for two years and then four years in the Navy where he was a Crash Fire Rescue Fire Fighter on the USS Bon Homme Richard (A CVA 31). James lived in Tyler from 1957 until 1991 when he moved to Chandler. He was a member of the West Lake Baptist Church of Chandler, the Odd Fellows, and the American Tae Kwon Do Association where he earned a first degree black belt. He was a Union Steward at TRANE. He enjoyed fishing and was a Bass Tournament Fisherman with the Bass TRANE Club and retired after 30 years at TRANE.

James was preceded in death by his parents; brother Johnny Rains; sister and brother-in-law, Sarah and Jim White; uncle Levoy Rains; cousins Galen and Sara Rains; mother-in-law Rosie Martin.

Surviving are wife of 46 years, Ray Rains of Brownsboro; son John and Melissa Rains of Brownsboro; grandson Maxwell Rains; grandson Hank Rains; sister Ellen Rains of Rogersville, Ala.; sister Gladys Goode of Lawton, Okla.

Pallbearers are Corey Rains, Scott Bell, Brad Smith, Duane Sweitzer, and Lou Turner.

Family will receive friends from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, at the funeral home.

Contributions may be made to the Hospice of East Texas, 4111 University Blvd. Tyler, TX 75701, Tyler; or, Fire Fighter’s Cancer Awareness & Relief Effort (CARE) c/o Tyler Fire Administration 1718 W. HoustonTyler, TX 75702.