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County turns down request for groundwater use

POSTED: August 21, 2014 7:47 p.m.

Effingham County commissioners voted not to cede any of its groundwater withdrawal permit so a proposed development could install a well and water tank that the county eventually would operate.

Doug Morgan of EMC Engineering said they had looked at the cost of extending the county’s water line up Old Augusta Road, compared to the cost of putting in the well and tank. The water line would carry surface water but the well would dip into the county’s allotment for groundwater withdrawal.

Commissioner Vera Jones said the county releasing a portion of its groundwater withdrawal typically isn’t an option for a proposed development.

“It is a valuable commodity to Effingham County,” she said. “Why would we release our groundwater?”

Chairman Wendall Kessler, who does not have a vote in most matters, said he was against the request.

“My opinion is we don’t need to take any of our groundwater permit and give it to any developer, just because of dollars and cents,” he said. “My vote would be to run a surface line. We need to start building that infrastructure down that road. That’s my opinion.”

Kessler also cautioned that the state Environmental Protection Division could issue even more restrictive groundwater withdrawal permits. Effingham County is in what is called the red zone, an area where withdrawals from the upper Floridan aquifer are capped. The red zone boundary line runs along Highway 119.

“People I talk to say they’re going to cut us one way or another,” the chairman said. “If we use all our capacity up, we’re going to have to do some kind of conservation efforts to get it down. Who knows what’s going to happen in 2016?”

The developers bought nearly 660 acres of Old Augusta Road South between Abercorn and Chimney Road, with plans for a 200-lot residential subdivision. Their first phase, Morgan said, was to build on 54 acres and they were asking for water service. Homes will have individual septic systems.

“It’s a very, very green development,” Morgan said. “They want to keep a lot of the wetlands”

Darin Foy said they have several options for water service, including joining with the county in sharing costs on extending the water line from the Park of Commerce to the development. A well and tank is estimated to cost approximately $160,000. Installing the water line is expected to cost more than $700,000.

“EMC said this is the most economical way to proceed with the development,” he said. “They suggested it, that’s why we’re here. We’re proposing we pay for everything and sign it over to the county at a later date.”

Foy also said there is a private water utility that may be interested in providing service to the development.

If a 16-inch water line is put in, other future developments could connect to it. If a combination of an 8-inch and 10-inch line is put in, it won’t cost as much to install but also means it couldn’t serve other properties. The 8-inch and 10-inch lines would cost about $430,000 to put in, Morgan pointed out.

The Department of Transportation also would like to have the property as part of the Savannah port expansion, Foy said, but they believe the best use is to develop it.

“Effingham County, in our opinion, is lacking in one-acre lots,” he said.

Revenue from connection fees for the first phase is projected to be $55,000 and the full buildout of the development could result in $330,000 in fees paid to the county. But how long it will be before the development is finished isn’t known.

Attorney Mickey Kicklighter also backed not allowing the group to tap into the county’s groundwater and urged the county commissioners to extend the water line down Old Augusta Road. Kicklighter reminded commissioners the Old Augusta Development Group was asked five years ago to put together an economic study of their Grandview project.

“The original plan was to create an economic corridor,” he said. “You do not have an economic corridor without water and sewer. If you run water and sewer lines down Old Augusta Road, you open up over 2,000 plus upland acres for development, most of which would be industrial or commercial or high density residential.”

The 2009 study projected the return on taxpayer investment to be between 8 and 46 percent for one industry on Old Augusta Road, if the county extended water and sewer service down the road.

“And that’s just one industry along the corridor,” Kicklighter said. “Even if you were to pay the $12 million to run the line to its anticipated end, the return on the investment to the county is still through the roof, in the long run.”

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