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
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
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
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
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.
** To keep the taxpayers of Jasper County, Georgia
informed as to where and how their tax dollars are
** To keep the taxpayers abreast of local policies
and laws being discussed and enacted.
** We advocate more open government, less government
spending, and lower property taxes.