County industrial authority (IDA) members discussed in November that the Georgia Renewable Power Plant (GRP) was behind on its bills in the amount of $379,000, which included $206,500 in construction costs and another $173,000 in past due water bills (including $64,000 in past due fees).
The IDA received a check the following morning after the meeting in the amount of $103,000 on its water bill.
And though the topic of GRP debts didn’t come up at the IDA’s Dec. 4 meeting, The Journal followed up with a request to know how much, if anything, GRP still owes the county. However, IDA director Frank Ginn said he “could not give this information at this time.”
GRP is seen as a major revenue source for Madison County through water billing and property taxes. The company has a tax bill due Dec. 20 to Madison County for $1.658 million, which will be split between the county government, schools and industrial authority.
In other IDA business, the authority postponed a decision for the second time on another water line project recommended by Ginn. The proposal involves issuing a change order to the IDA’s current contract with Griffin Brothers engineers to engage in a proposed $461,000 project using Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan funding to incorporate a well on the site of the Columbia feed mill on Hwy. 72 between Carlton and Comer. The well, which reportedly pumps 150 gallons per minute, would then be used as an added water source for the county water system. The project would also include extending those water lines across the rail line from the well and into the City of Comer, with Comer paying to connect the new water line to their water system.
Ginn had recommended they move forward with the project at the authority’s November meeting, arguing that the move would build the county’s water supply in its industrial area, give “redundancy” to the Columbia feed mill’s water supply and add an interconnection with the City of Comer. He also expressed concern at the November meeting about having enough water for the Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant.
While Ginn listed this as his immediate recommendation, he said he is exploring other options to provide additional water sources to the county. This includes working with Jackson County to develop a tie-in to the neighboring county’s water system from Lloyd Nelms Road.
Ginn said he is also looking at the costs of installing a booster pump station at the Franklin County line.
“My biggest fear is to make sure we have enough to service our water obligations,” Ginn said, adding that he’d love to see redundancy in the water system to avoid the situation of having more demand for water than they have the capacity to meet.
He said other water source expansion plans include looking at agreements with private wells where they would be brought up to municipal standards and to also develop better interconnections with Danielsville and with Comer.
Authority member Pat Mahoney said she still doesn’t feel they have enough information to move forward on the new well and extension and recommended the group explore other less costly water sources.
She also said she is very concerned about the IDA’s debt.
“The IDA has just shy of $11 million in debt,” Mahoney said. “I find that just staggering for the population and revenue that this county has.” She said she couldn’t see the IDA incurring another $500,000 in debt when they have other less costly options.
“We have a responsibility to the county as a whole, not just the feed mill, even though I do understand their concerns,” she added.
Authority member Marc Perry said he’d like to continue to wait for all the water tests to be completed on the feed mill well. He also said that he feels they should pursue the booster pump station with Franklin County first, saying that would be the biggest source of additional water for the least amount of money.
“I believe they could sell us a million gallons a day if we could move it,” Perry said.
Perry added that he feels the IDA should develop additional water sources by starting where the county can get the most water for the least amount of money, then go to the next highest source for the most economical price and so on, pointing out that the new line from the well at the feed mill to Comer would provide the least amount of water to the county system.
But Ginn argued that the IDA should aim to serve the industrial corridor along the rail line by developing an additional water source in that area, saying if they don’t serve this area adequately now, it would reduce the odds of getting another potential industrial customer to come in.
The feed mill and the (GRP) plant are the two industries currently located along the rail line.
“I don’t want us to fail those industrial customers,” Ginn said.
In a related matter, Ginn told the board that the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) will consider an 18-month extension on their current loan agreement in January while they decide what project(s) to pursue.
Acting Chairman Josh Chandler said if the extension is not approved, they will need to begin making payments on the amount borrowed for the GRP water line extension in April.
The construction close out date on the current project to supply water from Elbert County to GRP was Dec. 1.
In other business last Wednesday, the board agreed to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the county government to process payroll for IDA employees on the county’s payroll system and to bring IDA employees under the county health insurance plan. They also voted to provide and contribute to a retirement plan for full-time employees.
The board also approved the modified job description of the utility director with a 3 -1 vote, with Mahoney opposed.
Also Wednesday night, Ginn told the board that he, Brian Kimsey of Carter Engineering, Chandler and utility director Steve Shaw met with Seagraves Lake property owners to go over the options on repairing the dam to mitigate the potential hazards of a dam breach at the least amount of cost to taxpayers while also looking at how to keep the lake’s water levels as high as possible.
The IDA took ownership of what Georgia Safe Dams has deemed a “high hazard dam” back in 2007 with the intention of repairing it and using the lake as a water source but has since decided not to move forward with this. The board must now determine to repair the dam with the least expense to taxpayers. Kimsey told the board at the November meeting that there are two major concerns; to minimize the reduction in lake levels for property owners around the lake and minimizing the cost to taxpayers of repairing the dam.
Chandler said the homeowners were given details of the issues they face and asked for feedback and to consider whether or not they would like to contribute to the project.
“They know we need to do what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer and they know we have a short timeline (to make a decision),” Chandler said, adding that he thought it was a positive meeting. Ginn said they hope to hold another meeting with the landowners before the IDA’s next meeting in January.
Ginn also discussed the Madison County Clean Power Coalition’s meeting scheduled for the following evening (Dec. 5) in the Madison County High School Cafeteria.
Ginn told the board that he was concerned that the group had not invited representatives of GRP, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD), National Salvage (who sells GRP railroad ties) and others to also speak at the meeting and that he had expressed those concerns to Coalition members when they took a tour of the plant on Tuesday.
He said he had invited those representatives himself but had been told that they would not be allowed to speak at the meeting.
Ginn said School Superintendent Michael Williams had agreed to allow Ginn and these representatives to use another room if necessary if there were folks there who wished to speak with them.
Cheryl Adams, a member of the Coalition who was present at the IDA meeting, told the board that the reason these representatives wouldn’t be able to speak is that they only had use of the school from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and would need that time to make their presentations.
Adams also told the board that she and her husband live one half mile from GRP and that they, like their neighbors are all on wells and are concerned about the safety of their water due to seepage into the ground from the stacked railroad ties outside the plant. She said they’d like to have their wells tested now to see if any contaminants were already present.
Adams said that like others, they were also experiencing issues with soot, smoke and problems breathing, as well as noise from the plant.
The IDA will meet Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 5:30 p.m. in the meeting room of the historic courthouse in Danielsville.
Board members plan to select officers, including chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and secretary at this meeting.