After squandering millions
Columbia County has a map
(The city meeting)
the county meeting)
Columbia County, FL (posted
The Sept.14 Lake City utility committee ran smoothly,
quietly and professionally. Everyone from the city knew
what they were talking about. City Manager, Wendell
Johnson (blue shirt and tie) addresses County Com DuPree
with his reservations about running the county utility
at Ellisville. The entire city council attended this
The City of Lake City has been in the utility
business for a hundred years. There have been some
bumps, big bumps, along the way. The city utility is now
run and managed by a team of professionals and soon,
along with its world class water plant, will also have a
state of the art and up to date sewage treatment plant.
Is the city making everybody happy – certainly not,
but unlike in the county, you can come to the city and
ask all the questions you want. The city extends this
right to the same two county commissioners, DuPree and
Bailey, who have taken this right away from all the
citizens of Columbia County and that includes the City
Mayor and Utility Committee Chairman George Ward, in
words echoed by Councilman Eugene Jefferson told the
Observer, "We want to answer everybody's questions. I
have never heard of the council denying anybody the
right to ask a question. We are not interested in giving
the people time limits. We are interested in giving the
At the City Utility Sub Committee meeting held on
September 14th, after the presentation of the city's new
rate study, a discussion ensued regarding the
city-county utility relationship, both in Ellisville and
in the future.
Can the county give us a number?
Mr. Ward cut right to the chase and addressed
the county, "You have to have a feel for the amount of
gallonage you're talking about. Can the county give us a
Commissioner DuPree answered, "We're
new to it. I know one of the numbers I heard was seven
hundred and fifty thousand gallons."
Mr. Ward followed up, "Do you have a potential
customer base you're serving?"
Com DuPree's answer left everyone slack jawed,
"Well, Columbia County and the exchanges."
Non-pulsed, the always polite Mr. Ward said,
"You all need to get back to us and give us some idea on
what kind of capacity you would want."
Utility Director Dave Clanton explained
that the city is working on a thousand per gallon cost.
Com DuPree said, "Probably it would be a good
idea if we could figure out how to get the two utility
committees together. I guess to start a dialogue about
where we want to go ..."
City Manager Wendell Johnson summarized
what he has been saying at the other county-city
I asked Dale (CM Dale Williams) to provide – what did he
want? Somebody's got to sit down and determine the
amount of capacity you want to acquire from the city.
The operational concept .... these are elements that
have to be considered.
County sub-committee chairman DuPree responded
to the City Manager:
Well, you know what might be then is
that maybe what we need to talk about our utility meetin
is maybe contractin with you all about helping us
determine what our needs are, cause it sounds to me like
what you need to know from us what do we wanna do and --
we're like to go wearin diapers – and so you know – we
don' have -- we don't have staff that helps us figure
out how to get where we wanna go – so it could be that
that's the next step that we need to take and it would
make sense to me that we need to try to use don't know
how expensive ya all are – but – at least try to use who
ya all usin at least ~unintelligible~ familiar with your
system ... ~unintelligible~.
Director Steve Roberts stepped in, "One big help
would be if you've got plots or maps showing the
extension areas that you want to take water to."
Commissioner DuPree laughed and then
told Director Roberts, "I've got a map of Columbia
The county has sabotaged all efforts
toward a regional utility.
For years the county has sabotaged every effort as
progress was made toward the concept of a regional
utility and cooperation. The new City Manager does his
homework and is asking all the right questions. When the
topic changed to the city running the Ellisville Utility
Project for the county, there was a palpable silence.
Finally, City Manager Johnson spoke:
Contract operations. This is the same thing I've said in
the county meetings. It is something I am not disposed
to. I can only say that it's different. It's something
that I've never experienced as far as the city operating
the utility system for the county. A lot of information
would have to be provided... There are a lot of
unknowns... It sounds logical, but this kind of
operation is not based on logic. It's based on the
reality of an operational relationship whereby everybody
benefits. That's something this go-around -- I'm just
not comfortable with.
city's long time consulting utility engineer Henry
Sheldon, who is not known for being bashful, came
right to the point:
We never really thought of owning or operating a
satellite water system, because our well field and our
plant is big enough for the whole county. We can pump
water to Live Oak and to High Springs... Last week we
turned off the pumps for a plant that we could never
meet water quality. We don't want to get back into that
business... If there is a plant that is out there with a
well that is pumping from a ground water that could be
contaminated ... we can't do it.
After a pause Com DuPree spoke, "Sounds a lot
like a no to me."
Water Director Roberts: I
know the water in that area. It's full of organics. I
don't know if you all did a study on the water to see
what happened when you hit it with chlorine and what
kind of by product you're left with.
Commissioner DuPree answered Mr.
Roberts explaining what he thought went wrong:
all the processes that should happen when you're gonna
put in a water system and a sewer system. I wasn't on
the Board of County Commissioners when all this
happened. All them steps we're talkin about right now –
I would certainly understand your
position to say I don't want no part of it because
you're all a bunch of idiots and did it backwards and we
don't want to have your liability. I understand that. I
just need to know that.
Does anybody even know if they drilled any test wells at
How did the water come out?
Well they drilled the wells.
Director Roberts: I've never
seen any data.
Do you have any data?
Com Bailey: Eutaw has. [Eutaw Utilities
– the county consultants]
The Observer: Pardon
Com Bailey: The engineer's have it.
The Observer: Does the
county have [it]? They are in Tallahassee.
Com Bailey: I think they that if they do
or if they don't.
It's just – you know it is what it is. It's what we got.
Commissioner DuPree hit the nail right on the
head. "It's what we got."
Unfortunately the "we" are all the working families
of Columbia County and the mess at Ellisville is just
coming into the sunlight, as the squandering of county
money, state money and now federal stimulus money
continues without accountability on this inept project.