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Columbia County Economic Development: Water to the Plum Creek-Weyerhauser-Mega Industrial Park? 15 Years and Counting

Lake City Utilities back in the game

Photo: Aesterion Steels, LLP | Columbia County Observer Graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Begun in 2006, Plum Creek, now Weyerhaeuser, began the plans for a super-duper mega industrial park (Industrial Park) on East U.S. 90 in Columbia County. Fifteen years and millions of public funding dollars later, there is still no water or sewer at the 2,500-acre site.

See: Columbia County Economic Development Weyerhaeuser-Plum Creek Mega Industrial Site: 14 Years Later – Still No Utility Plan

Getting a Plan for a Route in Columbia County Time

City Manager Joe Helfenberger
City Manager Joe Helfenberger (file)

On November 13, 2020, City Manager Helfenberger, in a memo to the City Council, wrote of the importance of a route feasibility study to bring drinking water to the Industrial Park, “The study would determine the best route and the estimated costs to build the water line [from the Price Creek water plant] for potable water. If approved, the feasibility study will take approximately three months.”

On November 16, 2020, the City Council approved getting a price for the study.

On November 30, 2020, the City's utility engineer, Jones Edmunds, came up with a proposal to study and evaluate a water main route from the City's Price Creek Water Treatment Plant [a plant originally designed to provide all of Columbia County with water] to what is now called the North Florida Mega Industrial Park. The proposed cost of the route plan was $38,900.

On December 1, 2020, City Manager Helfenberger wrote a memo to the City Council stating, “At the December 7, 2020, City Council meeting, I will have a proposal from Jones Edmunds for a Water Route Feasibility Study to provide potable [drinking] water from the City Water Plant to a location in the North Florida Mega Industrial Park to be determined by the study.”

Dan Sweat
Former Lake City Asst. City Manager over utilities. (file)

On December 29, 2020, during the City Utility Advisory Committee meeting, then-Assistant City Manager Daniel Sweat's remarks were, for the most part, unintelligible. Mr. Sweat did seem to say that the North Florida Mega Industrial Park was off the City's radar. Lake City Not the Regional Utility Anymore: It's Now Up To the City Council Decide What It Wants the Utility to Be - Time Is Running Out

The City’s meeting minutes bear that out. The minutes are completely silent on the item: “Lake City Utilities for the North Florida Mega Industrial Park (Daniel Sweat).”

However, a bit further down, the minutes state, "Mr. Sweat stated the City Council needs to determine if efforts would be better spent on a shovel-ready project.  His recommendation is for the City to focus on the Bell Road Project and the I-75/State Road 47 Project.”

Mr. Sweat’s remarks put the kibosh on the Water Route Study.

On January 14, 2021, during the City Utility Advisory Committee meeting, Mr. Helfenberger asked for reconsideration of the Water Route Study, giving a laundry list of reasons.

On February 1, 2021, the City Council authorized Jones Edmunds to go ahead with the study.

After 15 Years:
A Discussion of the Water Route to the Industrial Park

On Wednesday afternoon, June 23, after a two-month hiatus, the City Utility Advisory Committee met. Commissioners Ford and Murphy and City Manager Kraus represented Columbia County.

Ami Fields: interim Lake City City Manager
Interim City Manager Ami Fields

The City was represented by Councilmen Sampson (chariman) and Jefferson, City Utility Director Paul Dyal, and the City Interim City Manager, Ami Fields.

Agenda item number six was a discussion of the water route [for potable or drinking water] for the Industrial Park.

Jones Edmunds' engineer, Jamie Bell told the Committee, "I don't have an update on this one, other than we completed the feasibility analysis and identified a recommended route and cost estimate that was submitted to the City. I believe the next step would be a discussion on whether or not to pursue the design and permitting of that project. I will defer to City staff."

City Utility Director Paul Dyal weighed in, telling the Committee, "That was turned over to Mr. Helfenberger to decide on how he wanted to move forward."

Mr. Dyal explained that he had chosen a route; Mr. Helfenberger said he would get together with County Manager Kraus; and that he (Mr. Dyal) had no other information.

Florida Gateway College Had a Problem

County Manager David Kraus
County Manager David Kraus.

County Manager Kraus told the Committee: "The only thing I know was the college [FGC] had objected, at a zoning meeting, I think, because of the thought it would impact Timberwolf Drive. At the zoning meeting, we did inform the college that it would not impact where Timberwolf Drive is located. Timberwolf is not (unintelligible) the route. The college seemed happy with that. So the only question out there is alignment and (unintelligible)."

Councilman Sampson inquired about the roads and the right-of-ways at the Industrial Park.

County Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter said this was taken care of about five years ago.

Mr. Kraus spoke about the residential component of the Industrial Park, which the County just increased from 300 units to 1200 units.

Mr. Kraus said, “We did some preliminary designs for roads, one of which leads towards Timberwolf Drive. The City, Paul, can correct me if I am wrong, planned to place that water line in the right of way where the road would come through, so the road, and the right of way, and the water line would be in segmentation. We can get the easements from Weyerhaeuser, where the portion is in the industrial Park. The City would have to approach the Water Management District for the balance…."

Utility Director Paul Dyal
Utility Director Paul Dyal makes a point.

Mr. Dyal said the City never had “issues” with getting easements from the Water Management District. “The only question that has ever come up was one, where Mr. Helfenberger was gonna get the funding, and two, (Mr. Dyal explained alignment, which was not intelligible because of air handler noise).”

Mr. Kraus said, “I think I've seen three different alignments. I don't know which one Joe [Helfenberger] was thinking about.”

Mr. Dyal said, "We ended up settling on the one; I guess it was the middle (unintelligible) route…."

Engineer Jamie Bell answeres questions
Engineer Jamie Bell

Engineer Jamie Bell explained the route, "The idea would be to cut around the water treatment plant and come up Timberwolf, the side of the road had not been identified. We need a survey to finalize that question. And then across -- basically even with the east-west boundary of the industrial Park… to come up along the backside of the residential area for their connection, and that would be sort of the initial phase… (Ms. Bell explained Jones Edmunds presented the report in two phases with appropriate costs).

Mr. Kraus said, “The first thing is finalizing the alignment.”

Commissioner Murphy suggested working with Weyerhaeuser and having Mr. Dyal work with the Water Management District.

Mr. Dyal said the City already had the alignment worked out with the most economical route and the “fastest to build.”

Commissioner Murphy asked Mr. Dyal for the estimated first phase cost.

Mr. Dyal answered, “I can’t remember off the top of my head.” He explained the City could lay the line, or it could be contracted.

Jamie Bell Gives the Cost EstimatesL 'Around' $5.5 Million

After a search using her phone, Ms. Bell announced she found the cost estimates. “The combined phases together to do it all once should be 5.5 million ($). The first phase is 2.5 million… this is a planning-level cost estimate that covers the construction cost, based on current pricing as of June 2, when I submitted this report. (It is not clear why no one had the report at the meeting or why the County did not have this report.) The cost does not include design services. (This would add another 15 to 20%).”

Ms. Bell continued, “Part of the allure of that route is the quick accessibility to the proposed residential development, which is expected to be the first part of the Industrial Park to develop, so we wanted to get water to them first, as opposed to targeting other areas of the park.”

Economic Development Director Hunter did not add anything about industrial development projects in the works.

Engineer Bell said it would take “nine to twelve months to build.”

City Utility Director Dyal said, “A year and a half to two years.”

Todd Sampson
Utility Committee Chairman Sampson did a lot of listening.

County Manager Kraus asked, “Do we know what the plans were to fund it?”

Ms. Bell answered, “No, sir.”

Mr. Dyal volunteered, “Mr. Helfenberger did not elaborate that to me.”

Mr. Sampson concluded, "I think there is going to be some grant funds available, but I know we haven't looked yet. I think one of the next steps is to start looking for funding opportunities.” 

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