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Water billing dispute between 2 towns prompts concerns from Maine's public advocate

Moscow residents may lose water service next week if the neighboring Bingham Water District presses on with a planned disconnection over a billing dispute.

Records from the Public Utilities Commission show the Bingham Water District notified Moscow town officials of an unpaid bill worth nearly $24,000. Moscow must pay the outstanding amount or come to some sort of agreement over a schedule for repaying the remaining balance, according to a May 2 notice from the Bingham Water District.

In a letter to the PUC, attorneys for the Office of the Public Advocate said it was essential to keep the water flowing, and that the commission should put the possibility of a disconnection in Moscow on hold.

"We are equally concerned for the effect that any revenue deficiencies from unpaid bills could have on the customers of Bingham Water District," OPA attorneys wrote in a May 10 letter to the commission. "These two sets of innocent ratepayers have done nothing wrong. There must be no disruption of service, nor should customers be left 'holding the bag' financially."

In addition, public advocate attorneys said they were "dismayed" the PUC had allowed Bingham to issue a disconnection warning.

"To the OPA’s knowledge, never in the history of PUC water regulation has an entire water district of customers faced such dangerous consequences, and for circumstances out of their control," the letter reads.

The PUC opened an investigation into the Moscow Water District back in March, though public records show billing disputes at least date back to last fall.

Officials at both the Bingham and Moscow water districts weren't immediately available Thursday for comment.

The Morning Sentinel first reported news of the public advocate's concerns and the ongoing dispute.