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December 5, 2003

PLOT OR PLAN?

A Brief History of Water Service in Jasper County

 

Do you ever lay in bed at night and wonder why things are done that don’t make sense?

Some interesting things have been done and talked about at various County Commissioners and JCWSA meetings, but they didn’t all make sense until we started doing a lot of research on the Bear Creek Reservoir agreement.  The question—is it a plan or is it a plot?  Let’s start with the history of Alcovy Shores Water Authority (ASWA).  They seem to be in the center of many things going on now.

 

In 1978 a group of citizens in the Alcovy Shores community of the county went to the County Commissioners for help with their water situation.  The Commissioners at that time told these people they were not interested in a water authority, but these people could pursue it ON THEIR OWN.  This is exactly what they did.  ASWA was established by House Bill 731 on April 4, 1979.  In the next session of the General Assembly ASWA was given a 5-mile radius by House Bill 1879.  (Keep this fact in mind as you read the rest of this.)  In 1982 ASWA leased water lines for a period of 100 years in the Rollingwood subdivision from Milton Whitley because Turtle Cove decided to no longer furnish this area with water.  In 1994 the main well of ASWA went dry.  The County Commissioners were again asked to help, but to no avail.  The County referred ASWA to GEFA for a loan.  Newton County then became involved in the water situation in Jasper County.

 

Newton County attended a Jasper County Commissioner’s meeting to see if there was any objection to ASWA obtaining water from Newton County.  There was none.  In 1995 a 15-year agreement was reached between Newton County and ASWA.  A line was run from Newton County to Jasper County and was paid for by ASWA through loans from GEFA and the Southeast Rural Development Loan Fund.  NO funds were received from Jasper County (that is the taxpayers).  These lenders were aware of the 5-mile radius, which allowed ASWA to expand and thereby meet the payments on these loans. 

 

Again in 1995 the ASWA met with the County Commissioners to see if they would help fund the boring under Highway 212.  They were also asked if they would help with the expense of some of the fire hydrants since the VFD could fill up at any of these hydrants.  These requests were denied because the County Attorney stated (in the minutes) that the county could not help because an Authority had to stand on its own. Legally, the county could not help.  (Why does the County Attorney who now also represents the JCWSA say it is alright to fund expansion and hydrants for JCWSA?)

 

After several years of struggles the ASWA, through the efforts of their own board, have obtained loans, grants, and subsidies.  They ventured out, even though the County Commissioners denied all help and requests, to serve the people of their community.

But their troubles were really only beginning.

 
Sometime in 1997 an “ad hoc” committee to explore the possibility of a JCWSA was set up.  We can’t seem to find any documentation on who set this up or when this was set up, so it seems that a group of citizens got together to do this.  In 1998 the citizens of Jasper County were asked to vote on this matter under a SPLOST referendum.  The people voted No!  However, this ad hoc committee, now with the blessing the County Commissioners, proceeded and the JCWSA was set up under House Bill 972 signed on April 16, 1999.  Rep. Curtis Jenkins introduced this legislation.  The ad hoc members then became the members of the JCWSA. 

 

Also in 1997 HB 489 called the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) was passed. This bill was meant to keep taxpayers from being taxed twice for similar or the same services.  For example, the City of Monticello decided to quit supporting the library because the county was supporting it and the people in the city were already paying county taxes.  (Yes, it gets confusing.)  Sometime after this bill was passed a map was sent to the State showing the different services in the County.  The first map was rejected because neither ASWA nor Turtle Cove water was shown on the map—only JCWSA.  Now how can a system not even in place be shown to be the service provider of the County?

Who drew the map?  Why was it sent in that way?  We do not know, but there are indications that the second map was sent in by the County Surveyor who is also a member of JCWSA.   The second map showed ASWA and Turtle Cove, but conveniently left out the 5-mile radius of ASWA.

 

In a memorandum dated September 15, 2000 from Joe Tichy of NE Georgia RDC, he pointed out that it was obvious there were problems with the Service Delivery Strategy map and documents because “neither Alcovy Shores nor Turtle Cover water authorities were invited to the meetings.”  He also states that, “The ASWA was not involved in the negotiations leading to the service delivery strategy for Jasper County.” The memo also states that “the SDS process was flawed by lack of participation of the three water authorities.” An alternative SDS map was suppose to be drafted; if it ever was, we can’t find it since none of this information has been in the County Commissioners office where it is suppose to be.

 

Why is the 5-mile radius so important?  It seems that AT&T was considering a project, and it would be in the ASWA 5-mile radius.  JCWSA needed this project to generate revenue—this is stated in the memorandum.  ASWA had “rights” to this project.  Frank Sherrill, engineer for JCWSA knew of the 5-mile radius since May 2000.  He even stated at the December 15, 2003 commissioner’s meeting that it was illegal to go into someone else’s area.  ASWA hired an attorney, and State Senator Faye Smith was willing to introduce additional legislation concerning the 5-mile radius, but Rep. Curtis Jenkins refused to go along. 

 

When the AT&T project was first discussed, the JCWSA knew they wanted that project.  On August 24, 1999, two of the members of  the JCWSA (still serving) went to ASWA and asked them how much it would cost to buy them out.  They were told since ASWA was an Authority set up by the State, they didn’t think that ASWA could be sold.   There was more planning and plotting, and on May 1, 2002, the JCWSA invaded the 5-mile radius and laid down lines on Yancey Road to serve less than 40 households.  We could never understand why anyone would start a project there with so few users, but after all this research it becomes apparent.  The JCWSA had to get a foothold in the 5-mile radius in order to serve the AT&T project. 

 

In the October 2, 2001 minutes of the JCWSA a 40-year contract to buy water from Newton County was signed.   The contract was suppose to be for as much a 1 million gallons a day.  Instead Newton County had a maximum of 300,000 gallons a day in the contract.  Even though the members of JCWSA grumbled about it, they still signed the contract.  Was this Newton County’s way of getting Jasper County to sign the Bear Creek Reservoir agreement?  That agreement allows up to 1 million gallons a day until the Reservoir is built, then JCWSA can buy up to 25% of the water in the reservoir. (At present JCWSA uses a little more than 100,000 gallons a month.)

 

On July 15, 2002, the County Commissioners appointed 2 members to the ASWA board. This is the first time in the history of ASWA that the County Commissioners had appointed someone to this board.  Maybe if they could not buy them out this would be another way of trying to take over.  (In the past, the ASWA would submit names to the County Commissioners as a courtesy, and they would be approved as submitted.)  There is now a lawsuit concerning this appointment going through the court.  The Commissioners also violated the Open Meetings Act when they did this by adding this item to the agenda long after the meeting started.  Why was this so important to the Commissioners?  Could it be that any plans would be easily approved with hand picked board members?

 

At their January 5, 2004 meeting, the County Commissioners again brought up ASWA.  Now they want to put ASWA into the new charter—again so they can control it.  Comm. Bennett said twice to the county attorney, if ASWA is in the charter, then we can appoint their board.  This seems to be very important to this group of commissioners.  Have they considered how much debt ASWA has? Won’t the County have to acquire the debt and the leases if they are so eager to put ASWA under their control?

 

The Bear Creek Reservoir agreement has generated many questions and much controversy.  Just like ASWA and Turtle Cove were left out of the SDS meetings, everyone but JCWSA and the Commissioners were left out of the loop concerning this multi-million dollar project that the property owners of Jasper County would have to pay for.  One concern is the fact that JCWSA would have the right to keep Newton County from amending or extending its existing contract with ASWA (page 5).  If this is left in the agreement, ASWA users could be left without a source of water and then have to become part of JCWSA.  One other concern revolves around eminent domain.  In the agreement, JCWSA would have power of eminent domain.  Turtle Cove has had their lawyer look at this agreement, and his opinion is yes, it would be possible for JCWSA to take over both Turtle Cove water system and ASWA system. These systems already have storage tanks in place.  The people being served by these systems have a right to be very concerned.  These are water authorities set up and paid for by private individuals and users.  These water authorities struggled and made it on their own without any taxpayer money involved.  Why can’t JCWSA do the same?  JCWSA can serve all the new growth and new industry they are promoting so aggressively without hurting the other existing water systems and their customers by invading these territories.

 

The people of Jasper County need to be aware of this information.  Our Commissioners need to take time, lots of time, to have the agreement with Newton County reviewed carefully by outside attorneys and engineers.  It doesn’t matter how the Commissioners FEEL about this issue.  It’s time they started thinking about how this will affect ALL the people of Jasper County.  What about the people in the City of Monticello and in Alcovy Shores that are already paying high water and sewer bills?  Should they have to pay higher taxes to help fund the JCWSA to keep the bills of JCWSA users low?  They will if we enter into a 50-year agreement with Newton County and help them pay for a multi-million dollar reservoir.   

 

Eventually we will learn what does take place.  One thing for sure, there has been a lot going on in the background that didn’t make sense until now.  We just wonder what else we will know in a year or two?

 

This ad paid for by citizens interested in full information concerning the reservoir project.

 

TWG
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