Dade Water Board Takes Up Snarled Brown Drive Sewer Question

March 18, 2019

File shot of , from left around the table, water company assistant manager Sherri Walker, board members H.A. McKaig and Eddie Cantrell, manager Doug Anderton and board members Dr. Billy Pullen and Travis McDaniel.


The governing board of the Dade County Water Authority did not announce a hiring decision for a new general manager of the local water company after its lengthy executive session last Friday, but it did schedule a special personnel-only meeting for 5 p.m. this Tuesday, March 19, at which a decision is expected to be made.


The water board is replacing Doug Anderton, who is retiring this summer after managing the nonprofit utility for 49 years. His assistant manager, Sherri Walker, has applied for the job, but the board has shared no information as to whether she is, or who else may be, in the final running. The special called meeting will take place Tuesday in the conference room inside the Dade County Commission office as Tuesday is Election Day for the city of Trenton and the Administrative Building front meeting room will be in use for voting.


Giving the financial report, Ms. Walker told the board the water company had reached a debt-to-revenue ratio of 1.04, perilously close to the 1.05 required by GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) and not far from the 1.10 required by its revenue bond lender. GEFA is the low-interest lender from which the water board borrowed $400,000 to pay for land on Lookout Creek for the eventual construction of a reservoir. "They usually don't look at it unless we report it," said Ms. Walker of the lenders. Nonetheless,the close debt ratio could soon signal a rate for water customers though none was announced at the March 15 meeting.


Ms. Walker also reported the water company had run up a substantial overtime expense with all the recent rain. Buried pipes in the Hicks Hollow area had bobbed to the surface, she explained later, and many households had been left without water as some repair crew members worked 30 hours straight to fix the problem.  


Citizen Doyle Smith, who had asked to address the board at the March 15 meeting, opened up what may become a red tape snarl for the water board and Trenton and Dade governments with a simple request: "I just want to know if you'uns would put in a line up to my tank."


Smith, who built his office and a handful of houses in the Brown Drive area just south of Trenton, had already installed a holding tank and pipelines on his personal property and only needed the responsible local government to run a two-inch pipeline to connect with the sewer system. County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who currently also chairs the water board, summarized: "The question is who's going to pay for the lines," he said. "You're looking at around $10,000."


Rumley explained that the few houses--about eight, said Smith--on Brown Drive are in a peculiar position sewer-wise: The Dade Health Department won't issue septic tank permits for houses within a certain distance of a sewer. Those houses are required to tie onto the government-run sewer. But the Brown Drive houses are not within the city limits, and the city runs the only existing sewer system


Five or six years ago, said Rumley, the sewer had been extended to four houses in the area that had been about to be condemned by the health department because the septic tanks had failed and raw sewage was running out onto the road. "Somebody had to do something," he said. 


The houses were within the mandated distance from the Trenton sewer. Rumley explained after the meeting that the sewer had been extended as far south as the Four Fields years before, when the Head Start facility there was built, in order to connect that federally-funded facility. So when the Brown Drive houses were in crisis, the county and water authority--"It was a joint effort," said Rumley--had tied them onto the sewer, paying for it with a federal grant. Later, though, confusion had developed about who was responsible for maintaining the sewer line, and now that more houses need to be connected, confusion remains about which government is responsible for extending the line.


The Trenton government has maintained it wasn't in the loop about the Brown Drive project. "I've been told the city didn't know about it," said water board member H.A. McKaig. "But I've also heard the former mayor agreed to it." 


"I just don't see how this is ours to do," said water board member Eddie Cantrell. Maybe, he said, "if they want to get together and have the city annex them..."


"We may be responsible for it because we're the only people who can do it," said McKaig.


It seemed to be a legal question, but the county attorney, who also functions as the water board's legal advisor, though present had nothing to say on the subject. H.A. McKaig opined that a written agreement is called for on the matter and there seemed to be general agreement on the point. 


"The bigger is issue is who's responsible for this overall," said Cantrell. "We say constantly we don't want to be in the sewer business but then we end up in the sewer business."


Actually, the full name of the water company is the "Dade Water and Sewer Authority," Why is that if it didn't want to be in the sewer biz? Water company manager Anderton explained:


Back in 1958, said Anderton, when the good citizens of Dade were uniting to form a public water infrastructure, the Dade County Water Authority, they didn't have any idea how much everything was going to cost and had underestimated the bonding limit they would need, which is to say the upward amount of money they could borrow. When funds ran out, it had ended up being simpler, instead of changing the limit, to incorporate a new entity with a new bonding limit, and thus had been born the Dade County Water and Sewer Authority. 


Back then, added Anderton, water for Trenton had been piped from the creek near the present-day high school, courtesy of the legendary "Doc" Middleton, who owned the adjoining land.


No answer was given to citizen Smith and no resolution was offered for the general problem at the March 15 meeting. Eddie Cantrell was to confer with the city government, and the matter will be taken back up again at a subsequent meeting.


The Dade Water Authority board meets at 8 a.m. on the third Friday of the month in the county Administrative Building. 

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