Talking about the water system

Frank Ginn and Josh Chandler speak to the Rotary Club of Madison County Friday morning about the county water system.

Industrial development authority leaders gave an overview of the Madison County Water System Friday at the local Rotary Club meeting. They also talked about the county’s water agreement with Georgia Renewable Power (GRP), the county’s biggest water customer.

IDA Executive Director Frank Ginn and Chairman Josh Chandler spoke at the Rotary Club’s Friday morning meeting and talked about the big increase in volume the county water system has had with Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) coming online as a major water customer.

Ginn pointed out that the system has had a five-fold increase in water volume over the past year, now running about 35 million gallons of water a month, up from seven million. The director said that the power plant project is the driving force behind a reshaping of the entire county water system.

Ginn said he and the authority have been working on consolidating five separate water systems within Madison County. Previous water projects have been installed piecemeal over the years, and Ginn said the authority has worked to connect those systems and to have a united water pressure flow, a move that has led to the discontinuation of water tanks at the EMS station off Hwy. 98 in Danielsville and at Madico Park.

The executive director and the chairman both talked about the IDA’s relationship with GRP. Ginn said the GRP project was a good economic opportunity that involved a significant and unfortunate alteration in plans. He said the Obama Administration approved the use of creosote-treated railroad ties as a fuel source in 2016. GRP’s initial plans were to burn clean construction and debris (C&D) and woodchips. But once regulations were modified to allow the burning of railroad ties, GRP received permitting to implement the practice. This move created massive backlash from nearby residents, who lobbied legislators to consider the effect of the burning practice on their health. This led to the passage of HB857, which bans the use of railroad ties as a fuel source for energy production. An exemption was built into the law for an existing business, and, according to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), two companies in the state remain legally permitted to burn crossties: ADM Valdosta and Green Power Solutions of Georgia in Dublin.

“The railroad ties have been a drastic change in what was going on,” said Ginn. “Unfortunately, they (GRP) didn’t set up things when they started at first to make things right. They were probably the world’s worst on the way they handled the PR side of stuff. And for that I’ve been tarnished in every kind of way. And it reflects badly on the industrial authority.”

Ginn said the economic impact of GRP for Madison County has been significant. He noted that GRP now pays about 10 percent of Madison County’s total property taxes, approximately $2.3 million this year. He said the company’s taxable property value is now $190 million, a $57 million increase from last year.

“You don’t build a great school system without revenue,” he said.

Chandler said the IDA has gotten significant criticism for its forgiveness of about $280,000 in GRP construction overruns. Madison County installed a 12-inch, 12-mile water line from Elbert County to serve GRP at an overall cost of about $4.2 million, an expense covered by a state loan and about $2 million in grants. During construction of the plant, the IDA and GRP agreed that $1 million would be set aside in an escrow account with the IDA receiving the money if the construction wasn’t finished on deadline or if the county didn’t receive grant funds for the water line. Chandler said the IDA served the unusual role of being both a potential recipient of the funds but also the escrow agent or handler of the money.

“Because we were the agent, that didn’t mean they were our funds,” he said.

Chandler said securing the money for the county wasn’t worth a lengthy legal battle with GRP on construction overruns.

“Our perspective was, do we want to spend who knows how much in litigation and chance gaining nothing out of it,” said Chandler. “And do we want to chance litigation and getting it all but still owing the attorneys? We didn’t think it was being good stewards of the county’s funds to go down that road when we knew our best outcome was to take all you can get and be satisfied with it. Please don’t just take it as the county did a favor to GRP. I think we did a favor to the taxpayers of the county.”

Ginn spoke about IDA decisions in years past. He said the installation of a water sewer system at a high elevation point in the Hull/Dogsboro area was an effort to keep Ingles from moving away. The store was talking about expanding and IDA leaders at the time didn’t want to lose the tax source to Clarke County. But Ginn said the location is a terrible place in terms of topography, because sewage has be pumped to the plant. The sewer system serves six customers and takes in only about 10,000 gallons out of its 50,000-gallon a day capacity.

“You couldn’t have a much worse place to put a waste water plant on top of a hill,” he said. “The only gravity flow is there’s a bathroom at the facility that gravity flows into the plant. Everything else is pumped. But at the time, I know that’s what they were faced with and that’s the decision they made.”

Ginn said the IDA is doing its best to make the most of some logistically difficult issues. He said the authority is installing a booster station that should come online this fall to pull in more water from Franklin County, bringing in roughly 500 gallons of water a minute. Chandler said this will help the authority deal with some friction issues in the system. Madison County is working on a contract to tie into the Jackson County system and purchase 500,000 gallons of water a day. Ginn said a new well at Rogers Mill will add another 700 gallons a minute. But he acknowledged there’s a challenge in bringing in additional water on water lines that are sometimes too small to handle a big boost in supply.

The executive director said he has been focused on creating looped feeds.

“You need feeds from two different directions so you can isolate an area and still have the ability to provide water to most of your customers,” he said.

Ginn said the big-picture aim of the authority is to use the water system to bring business, jobs and tax revenue to Madison County.

“You don’t get industrial growth and tax growth without water,” he said.

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