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Discord surfaces on water, sewer issues
Grand jury presentments
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Opening shots have been fired in the impending war over Midway’s attempt to annex — and provide water and sewer service to — a planned $50 million development.
Informed observers believed battle lines were being drawn when the Liberty County Development Authority, which apparently assumes it is the sole source of water and sewer service in the rapidly growing area of East Liberty, included — without comment — the entire text of Midway’s 15-page bond resolution and annexation plan with the Sawgrass Landing developer in its monthly printing of information for LCDA members.
On Sept. 5, County Administrator Joey Brown wrote a five-page letter to Midway Mayor Don Emmons objecting to the annexation, citing a number of technical reasons as well as the fact the county in its service delivery strategy allocates territory included in the development to the LCDA.
Brown provided 50 pages of documents supporting the county’s position.
A different view is expressed by Scot Ronning, one of the principals of the development firm. Ronning said late Thursday the (LCDA) has created an onerous negotiating environment as it attempts to block the $50 million development’s plans to be annexed by Midway.
Currently, about one-third of the 379-acre site lies within the Midway city limits Ronning said. The remainder is in unincorporated Liberty County. At issue is who will deliver water and sewer services to the development.
“The county doesn’t have the capacity to meet our projects water and sewer needs, yet they continue to create an onerous environment while we’re moving forward with our plans to have the remaining two-thirds of Sawgrass Landing annexed into the city,” Ronning said. 
“Midway city leadership has created a win-win approach that ensures success for everyone involved, while the county has demanded compromises from ABG that create a financial hardship for the developer,” said Walt Blush, a governmental affairs consultant to ABG.
“The county wants payment from the developer to build a county treatment plant without making any commitment that the plant would ever be built. In addition they are attempting to impose additional restrictions that are completely unrelated to water and sewer matters,” Blush said.
Blush said Midway has agreed to provide the needed services to Sawgrass Landing at a better rate than the county and that the developer has agreed to provide $5 million to the city to upgrade its water and sewer services and to build a 300,000-gallon deep water well on the Sawgrass Landing site. 
The mixed-use residential/commercial development, valued in excess of $50 million, will be constructed on a 379-acre site in the northwest corner of the Interstate 95 / U.S. Highway 84 interchange.
According to Ronning, current plans call for a total of 980 single and multi-family residential units priced between $150,000 and the low $300,000 range, two hotels, 500,000 sq. ft. of retail space with 13 out parcels available for additional retail.
The concept plan identifies 354 single-family residential lots spread among three separate development nodes on the northern and western side of the development. Commercial and retail space will border the eastern side of the site next to Interstate 95 and the southern boundary which fronts U.S. Highway 84. The development will have three entrances, all along U.S. 84.
The annexation/water-sewer controversy was also researched by the February-term grand jury that made specific recommendations (printed in red ink.) Here are its suggestions.
* The authority should immediately contact the city of Midway to discuss the availability of capacity at their waste treatment facility for its needs. Based on information in the authority’s minutes for the year 2007, the currently projected treatment capacity needed by the large developers with which it has been dealing is approximately 132,000 gallons per day. The city of Midway facility is already permitted by the state and operational. We do not see the need to reinvent the wheel unless the city of Midway has no interest in entertaining a reasonable proposal from the authority.
* If an offer by the authority to the city of Midway is not sufficiently attractive to develop a workable arrangement, or if the city of Midway does not want to deal with the authority, then the authority should then send out Requests for Proposals to a number of qualified engineering firms. There are several of them in the surrounding counties. Additionally, because there is no time constraint on when the facility must be operational, the traditional approach; that is, design the project, take bids on the construction of the waste treatment facility, award the construction contract to the most responsible, responsive contractor, and then have the engineering firm selected for design oversee the construction of the facility in conformance with the plans and specifications that it prepared for the project.
* The waste treatment facility to be constructed should be designed so as to be readily expandable in approximately similar increments. We do not know what the optimal increments might be, but we suspect that additions to capacity of 500,000 gallons per day would probably be a desirable number. The advantages of designing a facility so that it could be readily expandable are many: (1) it saves the Authority from committing money for capacity that it might not need for as much as 20 years; (2) it enables the plant to operate at a lower cost because it will not have to supplement the wastewater flow that would be required by a larger plant to operate efficiently; and (3) the use of the incremental expansions approach would enable the engineers responsible for the expansion to use the best available technology existing at that time to treat the wastewater coming into the plant.
Because there is not a tight timeframe for the construction of the project, we also recommend that the proposed financing arrangement with SunTrust Bank also be terminated. Moreover, we are also very dubious of that bank’s claim that it would be able to finance the project at a lower interest rate than could GEFA (the Georgia Environmental Financing Authority) which normally has the advantage of a subsidized interest rate.”
The LCDA voted for the $30 million water treatment plant with only one dissenting vote, that of commission chairman John McIver.
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