In a five-minute meeting called Tuesday morning for the purpose, the board of directors of the Dade Water Authority, or so-called water board, signed off on an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Dade County Commission to pay the lion’s share of the $500,000 the county had agreed to pay for land for a reservoir on Lookout Creek.
The county commission is slated to vote on the IGA at its regular December meeting on Thursday. The agreement's terms were finalized at a joint meeting of the commission and water board last week. All this is in preparation for closing on the land before the option expires at the end of this month.
The IGA spells out the terms that were revealed last week, to wit, that the two bodies will own the reservoir land jointly but that the county will pay only $100,000. It will add another $25,000 to the original $50,000 it paid for the land option in June 2017 and the $25,000 it added this year to extend the option. The water board will pay the remaining $400,000 from the proceeds of a low-interest GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) loan. The board had gained approval for as much as $450,000 but had resolved to access only so much of the loan proceeds as necessary to cover the shortfall left by grants the county sought to pay for the land. But the only grant the county found was the $25K this year it applied to extend the option.
All this was, again, spelled out at last week’s joint meeting. But the IGA as signed contained a fresh twist: “As additional compensation, and upon the final execution of this agreement, the County shall convey to the Water Authority any and all interest in the water and sewage facilities property received from Randall C. Baker and/or Tauqueta Development, LLC.”
The clause refers to a sewage plant that Dade Water inherited after Baker’s Tauqueta luxury golf development went bust after the housing market collapse of 2009. Dade is a rural county whose sanitary needs are mostly serviced by septic tanks. Sewers are expensive undertakings and only Trenton proper and the Highway 299 area have them. But in 2010 it came to light that the Water Authority had partnered with developer Baker on the sewage plant he’d built for Tauqueta Falls, and in 2011 the Dade Water Authority was obliged to assume operation of the facility.
Back then, the Dade County commissioners had not realized Dade’s water company had contracted to be the sewer operator for a golf and luxury housing development mostly located in Walker County. That revelation led to their request for state legislation reorganizing the water board to its current configuration, with the county executive chairman also chairing the water board.
All of which is ancient history. But until now, said Dade Water Authority manager Doug Anderton in explanation of the IGA clause, the authority has never actually owned the plant legally. The deed had mistakenly been transferred to Dade County rather than to the water company. Now, he said, with the county attorney working on the IGA, seemed the time to finally straighten that out. “It was just a good opportunity,” said Anderton.
Ted Rumley, chairman of both board and commission, added that the county attorney, Robin Rogers, had only noticed the mistake recently when he was doing title work related to the Tauqueta Falls/Canyon Ridge area. A lot’s going on up there, said Rumley, what with plans for a new Walker County-sponsored luxury hotel near the golf course. Dade Water supplies water as well as the sewer service in that area.
Rumley said that the mistake could have been fixed with a simple deed correction if Baker had been available to execute one. “They can’t find him,” he said.
Doug Anderton said Tauqueta/Canyon Ridge water and sewer rates are due for a hike soon. “We just want to make sure it’s paying for itself,” he said. He was quick to deny it was losing any.
Anderton and his assistant manager, Sherri Walker, had announced at last week’s joint meeting that Dade as a whole is also due for a rate hike soon, which both said was routine and unrelated to the $400,000 in new debt.
Rumley had earlier hinted that Jack Sellers, owner of the roughly 61 acres the county has optioned on Lookout Creek, might come down on the price. Questioned after the Monday water board meeting, Rumley admitted nothing had come of that. He had also mentioned the possibility of private donors ponying up to cover some of the cost. After the meeting he said that hadn't happened either, though he said going forward the unnamed donors might contribute to the price of building the reservoir after the land is secured.
Water board member Eddie Cantrell, chatting after the Dec. 4 meeting with members of the public, sympathized with citizens’ frustration at being excluded from the water board’s discussions about the controversial reservoir project. Though constrained as are other public entities by sunshine laws, the water authority has conducted almost all of its business in recent months behind closed doors. “I’m trying to make a commitment down the road to make the public more informed,” he said.
But he added that if experience were any guide, the public would quickly lose interest now and stop showing up.
Cantrell joined the water board in 2010, during its reorganization. The other members, Dr. Billy Pullen, H.A. McKaig and Charles Breedlove, are of older vintage.
The Dade County Commission meets this Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. in the county Administrative Building.