The July meeting of the Dade County Water Authority’s board of directors last Friday was brief and sparsely attended, member Eddie Cantrell absent on a mission trip in some exotic corner of the globe and chairman Ted Rumley hors de combat with a broken sternum. But a few interesting points arose nonetheless.
The main business of the July 20 meeting was signing papers for Tammy Decker, a financial representative who had come before the board to close a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) loan consolidating the water authority’s debts.
Ms. Decker laid out the main points of the loan, being that it was for $4,889,000 at 3.125 percent over a 40-year repayment period, with a $17,894 monthly payment, secured by the water company’s 6573 residential and 477 nonresidential customers. The water authority will use the money to pay for upgrading a raw water intake and a booster station, replacing some asbestos piping, installing and connecting a water main in a fixed-base meter-reading system, and refinancing a small GEFA loan.
(GEFA is the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, through which water companies often finance big infrastructure projects, such as the one to build a new reservoir and lake that has captured the public’s imagination—on which, more in a minute.)
Dr. Billy Pullen, who led the meeting in the absence of Chairman Rumley, commented that the modernized meter system should reduce water loss, and Sherri Walker, assistant manager of the water company, elaborated: “The meat of the project is really our meter replacement program, because a lot of those meters are so old they’re very inaccurate. We’re losing revenue on that daily,and that’ll increase revenue in the long run, which in turn will help pay for the loan.”
“This does not involve any rate increase to our customers,” said Doug Anderton, manager of the water company.
He said the company would be replacing the horizontal pumps up Sand Mountain—“They just haven’t worked out” with vertical ones sized to be upgraded as needed; closing some lines in Rising Fawn; and replacing a water line in North Dade that over the years a creek has gradually changed course to encroach upon. “When it comes some hard rains, I don’t sleep so well,” he said.
Anderton added that the water company had procured a USDA grant to help pay for the North Dade project.
But asked by a board member whether any of the loan money was to upgrade Lookout Mountain pumps to facilitate the new luxury hotel going up in the old Canyon Ridge development, Anderton replied, “No, that’s a whole separate project. I think they ought to pay for it.”
And they will, he explained after the meeting.
The Dade Water Authority supplies water to that section of Lookout Mountain, site of the old “Tauqueta Falls” golf course, though most of it lies in neighboring Walker County. The water board had years ago quietly agreed to extend sewer service there in cooperation with developer Randy Baker; then, when the development failed, ended up as owner of this “stealth sewer” the county commission had not known about. This resulted in a reorganization of the water board with County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley at the helm.
Recently, Rumley had reported that the current developer of the hotel project had not involved Dade Water in planning though the company will be solely responsible for supplying water and sewer.
That’s changed now, said Anderton after the meeting. “I brought Ted up to speed a few days ago on that,” he said. “I finally made contact with their engineer that was doing their study and they have now supplied me what their demand will be. It’s in the hands of my engineers now.”
Water company engineers will now determine what upgrades to the pump stations are necessary, or for that matter whether new pump stations will be needed, to supply the hotel, said Anderton. “The next thing they’ll be telling me is the lines are or are not adequate size from the top of the mountain over to the golf course. Now, when I know that, this will be their responsibility, the hotel’s, for this upgrade, for us to supply that demand.”
He said the confusion in communication with the developer’s people was due to the project’s using a lot of different engineers doing specialized work. But that problem had cleared up now that he’d made contact with the right engineer, who had in fact just finished up her due diligence, so really no time had been lost.
Asked if he understood the long-heralded hotel to be actually moving toward completion, Anderton said: “I’m not in the position to determine that. My position is that I’ve got to be ready for it if it does.” All of which would seem to indicate that the super-sized luxury Hilton hotel in a remote rural area off Highway 157 really does seem to be taking shape. The Planet will continue following this topic.
Not much news on the Dade Great Lake project—an initiative to build a reservoir and dam on Lookout Creek—emerged from the July 20 meeting. The subject didn’t arise during the meeting itself. But asked after the meeting if, as reported, an option to buy Jack Sells’ $500,000 tract of land on Lookout for the project had been extended, Anderton replied: “I think so. I think Ted did that.”
It hadn’t cost anything, though, added Anderton. “My understanding was he got a grant,” he said. In any case, said Anderton: “It didn’t come through us.”
But if the Dade Water Authority hadn’t been involved in the extension, asked The Planet, and if, as the option papers indicate, the named buyer for the land is the Dade County Commision, is the reservoir project really a water company project at all?
“The lake could be multipurpose,” said Anderton. “In 2016 when we had tremendous droughts in this area, helicopters were coming in here and had no place to even dip and put fires out.”
Anderton recalled that when the reservoir initiative was first introduced: “It was going to be a city-county-water authority project.”
But what about now? asked The Planet. If the water company wasn’t even consulted about the extension, is the land purchase really even water company business?
“Not yet,” said Anderton.
But the water board in the past couple of months applied for and was granted a $450,000 GEFA loan to pay for the 60-odd-acre tract should grants not come through to pay for it. Anderson said, though, that so far none of the loan proceeds had been touched. Board members had voted to take out the loan only with the stipulation they wouldn't use the money if they didn't need it.
Whoever’s business the reservoir project is, The Planet will continue to stick its nose into it, and to report thereon in these pages. Until then, the water board meets at 8 p.m. on the third Friday of the month in the Dade County Administrative Building.