The seven candidates running for four Riceboro City Council seats addressed a number of questions at a candidate forum Sunday evening at the Riceboro Youth Center.
Topics included whether they support increasing minority-owned business participation in the city; what new initiatives they would support, and whether those would include housing for senior citizens and bus service; and what experience they have that qualifies them to help run the city.
But the most contentious issue in Riceboro, as played out in the questions during the council and mayoral parts of the candidate forum, appears to be water service. Here are some highlights of the council candidates’ answers to the question, “How do you plan to address the water-level situation in the city?”
• Louise Brown said she needs to learn about what adequate water levels are, and then she would work to ensure that Riceboro residents get that level of service.
“Whatever the law will allow us to do, I will fight. I will go and stand, representing our community, fighting for us to get — for them to allow us to meet whatever we need to do to get more water flowing in our city,” she said.
• Vanessa Collins-Roberts gave a similar answer.
“I would have to find out and investigate the previous water levels that are allowed in this county and allowed in this area before we can go forward and try to ask for any more levels,” she said, later adding, “We’ll need to know exactly what that is before we can go forward with it.”
• Charles Jones said Riceboro isn’t the only community with water issues.
“This thing costs money, and as the whole county say, ‘We need more water into Liberty County,’” he said. “But some of these industries we got here now, they use more water than they’re supposed to be using. That’s why some of them cannot come to Riceboro now because we don’t have no more water here.”
• Incumbent Councilman David Miller said the water level is good now, but more is needed for the future.
“We are in the process of obtaining another well here to bring water into Liberty County,” he said. “We’ve got to work with other entities like the county, different other organizations, Chemtall. I know Chemtall is going to be an entity that is working with us in order for us to get this water where we want it to be. The thing is this, if you want to bring industry into Riceboro, water is No. 1.”
• Incumbent Councilman Chris Stacy echoed Miller on the importance of water and other infrastructure to attracting industry and that the city is working to get more water. He encouraged residents to educate themselves on what the water levels are in Riceboro and surrounding areas.
“We don’t regulate the water,” Stacy said. “The water is regulated by (the Environmental Protection Agency), and every county besides Long and McIntosh, are all counties that’s overdrawn water. They are a green county, so you have to partner with them. So all that’s available online, you can read all up on it.”
• Incumbent Councilman John Young said Riceboro and the rest of Liberty County do not “have a big water problem,” but that the water level “is in the yellow zone.”
“Walthourville, yellow zone. Hinesville, yellow zone. Riceboro, yellow zone,” he said. “The reason we are working with McIntosh County to get another well located in Riceboro. It’ll be the first city ever done that — ever done that. And the project is looking pretty good that it’s going to happen and once we get more water in, the industry and stuff, we have cleaner water. Chemtall works so much of the people. They’re family up there. So I can’t beat Chemtall now … they’re family.”
• Incumbent Councilman Tommy Williams said the real problem with the water is the saltwater that has intruded into the Floridan aquifer, which supplies water to nearly all of Florida and much of southeast Georgia.
“The EPA has limited the amount of water we can pull out of the aquifer because of the salt that’s intruding in,” he said. “So because of that, then we have to look for other means to bring water into our area to support the industry and, well, residents first, and then industry second. Chemtall works a lot of people in this county and surrounding county, so yes, we do try to maintain for that purpose and for cities. But priority No. 1 is for water for the citizens of Riceboro. Chemtall is a priority No. 2.”