Berlin To Weigh Options On Pending Utility Transaction
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.'