March 15, 2013

Shipyard Brewery ordered to pay $300K for sewer fees

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — An arbitrator Friday ordered Shipyard Brewing Co. to pay the city nearly $300,000 in sewer fees for which the brewery was never billed.

Today's poll: Sewer fees

Do you think $300,000 is a proper settlement for the city of Portland over the missed Shipyard Brewing sewer fees?

Yes

No, too much

No, not enough

View Results

"The decision provides a significant award to the city's sewer fund," City Manager Mark Rees said in a written statement. "I am hopeful today's decision provides some measure of closure for all parties involved, including the city's ratepayers."

The settlement is well below the $1.5 million in sewer fees that were never billed, according to a Portland Press Herald analysis. That figure was confirmed by the city Friday.

The decision may set a precedent for several other businesses that were under-billed much smaller amounts. Those billing errors were uncovered in a city audit of sewer fees after the Shipyard error was discovered.

The arbitrator who issued the decision, Bangor attorney David C. King, declined to elaborate on the evidence presented during hearings in late February.

Fred Forsley, president and co-owner of Shipyard, said he was eager to put the issue behind him.

"I really want to look forward," Forsley said. "We're not unhappy with the ruling."

Mayor Michael Brennan complimented Forsley and Shipyard for fully engaging in the arbitration process, which took about four months.

"I think that's a very positive outcome to the process," Brennan said after learning of the settlement from a reporter.

The billing error concerns a 6-inch water line installed for the brewery in 1996. The full fee for that line was not added to the company's monthly sewer bill and the error was not discovered until 2011, when the city was working with businesses to reduce their water usage.

After the error was discovered, the city hired attorney Bryan Dench to investigate. Dench found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing, but couldn't pinpoint the cause of the error, because of poor record-keeping and because two city workers involved with the billing error had died.

"Given the complicated circumstances surrounding the case and the fact that there is no evidence of wrongdoing, we accept the arbitrator's decision and award to the city as the final resolution to this matter," Rees said.

Forsley said the annual cost of producing its beer has jumped about $350,000 since Shipyard began paying its full sewer fee. Those added costs, along with increases in other utilities and beer ingredients, led to a 4-percent increase in prices in 2012, he said.

Shipyard spokeswoman Tami Kennedy said Shipyard has no current plan to increase prices in 2013.

"We're taking additional measures to reduce our water usage," Forsley said. "We're trying to stay competitive."

As a result of the billing error, Shipyard was not billed for sewer fees on a line that supplied 201 million gallons of water over 15 years. But the city has said the mistake did not affect Portland's overall sewer rates because that was a tiny fraction of the 28.8 billion gallons of water used by city residents and businesses over the same period.

A city audit later found that another dozen commercial and industrial consumers were never billed for sewer fees. The uncollected monthly charges ranged from $24 to $332 and totaled nearly $47,000 in fees that were never billed, according to data provided by the city.

It's unclear whether the arbitrator's ruling requiring Shipyard to pay about 20 percent of the total amount owed will set a precedent for other outstanding sewer accounts.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


Today's poll: Sewer fees

Do you think $300,000 is a proper settlement for the city of Portland over the missed Shipyard Brewing sewer fees?

Yes

No, too much

No, not enough

View Results

e-Edition

paper

The daily paper delivered to your computer or tablet!

Browse page by page, including stories and ads, with interactive features that make reading a breeze from wherever you are.

Already a print subscriber?
Connect your account for continued access. Not a subscriber? Become one.

Subscriptions start at only $8/month.

Go to the e-Edition

 

Hoping to read Social Social, The Root or Pedal On? Find them at MaineToday.com.

Maine's Top Jobs

GARDEN MANAGER, PART-TIME Falmouth (Maine) Public Schools
ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL RSU 5 - DURHAM-FREEPORT-POWNAL
CITY ATTORNEY City of Rochester, New Hampshire
MEDICAL ASSISTANT Confidential Posting
CAREGIVERS Casco Bay Home Care
ATHLETIC DIRECTOR CAMP WINNEBAGO
CERTIFIED SURGICAL TECH (CST) Littleton Regional Healthcare
View all Top Jobs