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Midway, authority hope to iron out annexation
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Despite the difficulty of handling business during the holiday season, Liberty County and Midway officials are planning to meet and discuss an annexation bid linked to water and sewer services.
County commissioners and the Liberty County Development Authority were hoping to schedule a meeting Thursday with the Midway City Council to discuss a problem that has brought construction of the Sawgrass Landing development to a halt.
After being unable to reach an agreement with LCDA to furnish water and sewer services to the 379-acre mixed-use project, developers turned to Midway because it has a tiny portion of the Sawgrass area within its city limits.
Midway approved an agreement that provides for the city to issue up to $16 million in tax-exempt municipal revenue bonds to finance water-and-sewer work, and other financing options were left open.
The agreement would allow the developer to use its own funding sources to pay for water and sewer improvements for the project and then sell the infrastructure to Midway.
Specifics of the plan include Deepwater Holdings, the developer, granting the city an acre of land for construction of a new deep well and 250,000-gallon storage tank that is expected to bring the capacity up to 500,000 gallons per day. A lift station will be provided to serve the development.
Midway’s capacity for handling wastewater would be increased by up to 400,000 gallons. A “purple pipe” water reclamation system will provide water for irrigation.
Midway would waive tap fees from Deepwater, while allowing the business to charge third parties who buy into the development. These fees could be used to pay for infrastructure or related costs, such as bonds.
The annexation and water-sewer deal would mean the LCDA would lose Sawgrass as a utilities customer and whatever influence goes with it. The county therefore wrote a letter officially objecting — at length — to the annexation and pointing out that nearly all of Sawgrass is in a service area assigned, with state approval, to the LCDA.
The county has offered proposed agreements in which it would withdraw its objections, but at least four drafts have been rejected and negotiations continue.
A called meeting of the Midway City Council set for Monday was cancelled. County Commission Chairman John McIver and LCDA Chairman Allen Brown have written a letter to Midway Mayor Don Emmons asking for a joint meeting of the three bodies.
At Sawgrass meanwhile, managing partner Scott Ronning said, “We have shut down the project.” The gates are reported locked and the construction equipment has been moved out.
Ronning emphasized the shutdown is temporary, saying, “It is suspended pending the outcome of the annexation issue between the county and the city,” adding, “We align ourselves completely with the city.”
Ronning said his firm has $60 million invested in Sawgrass now and is working on two projects nearby, one of which is close to being unveiled.
As the only property owners involved are petitioning for annexation and no changes are proposed in the approved land use, observers predict the county will be unable to prevent the annexation.
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