The new Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant in Colbert has been causing a great deal of environmental and quality-of-life concerns among neighboring residents over the past few months. And now the plant is also behind on its bills to the county industrial authority (IDA).

IDA members discussed the matter Tuesday, noting that GRP owes $206,500 in construction costs and another $173,000 in past-due water bills, which includes $64,000 in past due fees.

IDA director Frank Ginn said Wednesday morning that GRP paid $101,000 on its water bill that morning. He said Tuesday night that he has spoken to plant officials about the unpaid bills and has “no question or concern” that GRP will settle its debt, though he offered no timeline on when that might happen. He did say the plant has a new investor, but that he couldn’t say much about it at this point.

Authority member Pat Mahoney questioned what that had to do with the plant’s debts, but Ginn declined to explain further.

The authority agreed, after a suggestion by acting board chairman Josh Chandler, to send a letter to plant officials asking for a “good faith” statement from them on the debt repayment.

Chandler said that the plant promises to be a huge revenue asset to the county.

“We just need to clean things up a little by getting something in writing,” he said.

In another matter, the board postponed a decision on another water line project presented and 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 as an added water source for the county water lines. 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 to the new water line to their water system. Ginn said Comer officials had expressed an interest in having a connection to county water.

The IDA’s contract with Griffin Brothers, along with GEFA funding, is set to close out in December.

Ginn recommended they move forward with the project, arguing that the move would build the county’s water supply in its industrial area, supply “redundancy” to the Columbia feed mill’s water supply and add an interconnection with the city of Comer. Ginn later said that it would also add to the county’s available water supply for GRP.

Mahoney said she felt it would be “irresponsible to go down that road” at this point by incurring more debt at this time. She also pointed out that the proposed project is likely to cost more than the bid proposal of $461,000, since there will be other expenses associated with it including permits, such as one that will be needed to bore under the CSX railway, silt fencing, insurance and other costs.

“So is it going to end up costing $600,000, $700,000?” she asked, adding that these are also things they need to know before making a commitment.

And in a reply to Ginn about the county’s long term contract with GRP and its tax revenue, she said that “none of us can predict the future” as to whether GRP would be a long-term major tax contributor to the county.

Chandler expressed some concern about taking on the new project as well, saying the move made him nervous, especially since the GRP plant owes the IDA money.

“I want to do it, but can we afford to do it?” he asked.

New authority member Marc Perry agreed that the board needed to be cautious, saying he wasn’t in favor of going out on a limb, especially since they do not have current figures on water supply and tests on the well in hand.

Chandler asked Ginn to request a 30-day amendment to their contract with Griffin Brothers to give the board more time to discuss the project.

Perry agreed with that, saying he’d also like to see how the revenue stream was with GRP before moving forward on the proposed project.

Ginn said he wants to move forward as he remains concerned about the water supply to GRP.

Also Tuesday night, the board heard a presentation from Brian Kimsey of Carter Engineering on the question of what to do about the Seagraves Lake dam issue. 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.

Kimsey pointed out that the IDA has since put aside using the lake as a potential water source and is now “stuck” with having to upgrade the dam. He said there are two major concerns; minimizing the reduction in the lake level for property owners along the lake and minimizing costs in repairing the dam.

Kimsey noted that his company has since identified only one home that would be endangered should a dam breach occur.

Ginn said he, Kimsey, Chandler and utility director Steve Shaw plan to call a meeting with the lake property owners to make them aware of the situation and the costs involved. He said he wanted to do this to give the landowners advance notice of the options instead of having them hear about the details in a public meeting. He also pointed out that the entire board could not meet with them as that would constitute a quorum, which would require the meeting to be public.

Kimsey said the issue is a “double-edged sword” with the interest of the lake property owners and tax money in the balance.

In other business, the authority approved the written job description for the IDA executive director, with Mahoney voting against the approval and Perry abstaining since he had not had the opportunity to review the job description.

Mahoney said previously that she feels the executive director’s position should be occupied by someone who is on hand full-time for 12 months out of the year. Ginn’s duties as state senator put him in Atlanta for much of the legislative session.

The group tabled a vote on the remaining job descriptions to give Perry an opportunity to review them.

Also Tuesday, the authority voted to change the IDA’s regular monthly business meeting date from the third Monday of each month at 6 p.m. to the fourth Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m., beginning in January.

The authority also agreed to hold a called meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the Seagraves Dam project after Ginn and others meet with the four property owners surrounding the lake. The authority will also likely further discuss the proposed well and water line extension project proposed by Ginn.

This will be the only IDA meeting in December.


(1) comment

James Cline

I almost thought I was reading an article from The Onion when I read the IDA's request for addition water sources related to GRP. For Frank Ginn to request more money for additional resources for GRP is unconscionable. You have to start to wonder how much more bait and switch Madison County is going to suffer? Initial request consistently turn into mere starting points. Was GRP's plans so poorly thought out that they underestimated the water requirements from the pipeline from the beginning or did they know that they would ask for more and more resources? Why do you need redundancy when you have an enormous water tank? Isn't the tank enough redundancy? From a business perspective, discussion of utility redundancies for a business that has been unable to operate at full capacity going on 4 months from the planned date is a brain dead decision. Doesn't GRP also owe Georgia Power fines for not being online and at full production? I think the full scope of GRP's "debts" should be fully disclosed before the county continues to be strapped by a failing business. This disclosure should include current financials, current electrical output, and downtime. Madison County should no longer be making uninformed financial commitments. The current commitments have set back the county so much that there is very little to offer for other potential businesses.

By the way, water is an operating costs for GRP not a debt. Most companies no longer capable of paying their operating costs usually bankrupt in a very short time. The mention of GRP gaining a new investor is nothing more than an admission or perhaps a slip of the tongue that GRP is in dire financial trouble. A company that can't operate profitably with practically free raw materials (CSX cross ties) isn't going to be around very long. My statement is based on experience as a CPA in the wood products industry.

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