The president of a private utility that has drawn deep concern in its small Chesapeake customer base is leaving his current role to head the company's North Carolina subsidiary.
A city official said the leadership change has temporarily slowed negotiations between the company and the city of Chesapeake, where hundreds of residents have complained of oddly tasting and colored water.
"The City remains committed to working with Aqua Virginia to reach a positive conclusion to these issue for our residents and we are continuing to take steps in that direction," said David Jurgens, Chesapeake's public utilities director, in an email.
Shannon Becker, president of Aqua Virginia for four years, was promoted to the new role in North Carolina after the president there retired this summer, Gretchen Toner, an Aqua spokeswoman, said in an email.
Becker will continue to oversee Virginia operations until his replacement takes over in early September, she said. The new president will be announced soon.
Toner said the leadership transition has not delayed negotiations with Chesapeake. The company sent a proposal to the city in May and has not yet received a response, she added.
Aqua America is a publicly traded utility with operations in eight states. In Virginia, Aqua provides water to about 81,000 people, including about 500 homes in Chesapeake. Aqua North Carolina serves about 250,000 people statewide.
Service from Aqua Virginia has been heavily denounced from customers in the Norfolk Highlands neighborhood of northern Chesapeake who complain of discolored, foul-smelling water that often leaves streaks in laundry and tastes too rusty to drink.
Aqua Virginia and state health officials maintain the water is safe to drink.
"It's not a health risk; it's just unsightly," Becker told the Pilot earlier this year.
City officials have been negotiating with Aqua Virginia, either to buy out the utility's customers in Norfolk Highlands -- an option the company has turned down -- or get it to beef up its fire protection services, currently lacking in the area.
A dearth of fire hydrants and other services has prevented the Indian River Shopping Center from experiencing needed growth, residents and managers of the shopping center have said.
Adam Arbogast, president of the Norfolk Highlands Civic League, said he's hopeful the leadership change will help negotiations.
"Anytime there's a new set of eyes to look at a problem, there's a better possibility for resolution," Arbogast said. "Somebody coming in new to the situation might be a little more willing to listen to our concerns."
There is no clear timeline until Aqua finalizes its personnel changes, Jurgens said.
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