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North Central FL Counties Meet To Discuss Forming a Regional Utility Consortium. Greg Bailey, Pres. of NFPS Thinks – The Time Is Right

Young woman enjoying clean water with headline: A regional water utility benefits everyone & gives all an advantage
Photo: Ekaterina Bolovtsova via Pexels | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday morning in Lake City, a group of representatives of North Florida counties met for an hour to discuss the idea of working together to form a regional utility consortium. North Florida Professional Services President Greg Bailey thought of and organized the meeting.

Mr. Bailey introduced himself: “I’m Greg Bailey. I am the president of NFPS (North Florida Professional Services).  We were the ones that coordinated this get-together.”

Mr. Bailey explained that the counties attending could explore ways to work together for the betterment of the region by exploring ways to coordinate utilities and benefit their constituents.

Who Attended (in order of introduction)

Franklin White, Chair of Suwannee County County commission.

Kevin Kirby:  Asst. County Manager, Columbia County

Shannon Roberts: County Administration, Suwannee County David Kraus: County Manager, Columbia County

Rocky Ford: Chairman Columbia County 5

Darryl Register: Econ Dev person for Baker County

Kathy Rhoden: Chair, Baker County County Commission

Staz Guntek: Project Development Manager, Columbia County

Dale Williams: Marketing Director-Lobbyist, NFPS

Jennifer Golf Daniels, Econ Dev Dir Columbia County

Stacy Cowart: Utility Director, Columbia County

Connie Brecheen: Fort White Town Clerk

Brian Roche: NFPS, Water Resources

Hamilton County: invited, did not make it

Union County: invited, did not make it.

Greg Bailey, NFPS
Greg Bailey, NFPS

Mr. Bailey, who does much of the utility engineering in this N. Florida region, reviewed the utility installations (water and waste water) in Hamilton, Suwannee, and Columbia Counties.

Darryl Register updated the Consortium on the utility installations in Baker County.

Mr. Bailey explained, “When you want to draw water out of the ground, you need to get a permit from the water management district.” Mr. Bailey said, “It is not as easy as it used to be to get water use permits from the water management district and permit renewals have to meet new and higher standards.”

Mr. Register explained that Baker County is mostly in the St. Johns Water Management District. Mr. Register explained that the City of Macclenny recently renewed it water use permit (the St. Johns Water Management District calls this a consumptive use permit). In October 2022, The St. Johns Water Management District issued Macclenny a permit for 505.52 million gallons a year or 1.385 million gallons a day (mgd).

Commissioner Kathy Rhoden
Baker County Chairwoman, Kathy Rhoden, listens.

Mr. Bailey said, “From our experience, St. Johns seems to be a lot easier to work with than the Suwannee district when it comes to water allocation."

Mr. Bailey said the Suwannee District is “utilizing a groundwater model that's very sensitive to withdrawals… these are issues that everybody is going to face.”

Mr. Bailey recommended, “All utilities need to start being engaged with the district on their policies."

Mr. Bailey spoke about all the problems utilities are facing: materials cost, inflation, and delivery times, adding that “permitting is getting expensive and time consuming.”

Mr. Bailey explained that there are opportunities using a cooperative approach to obtain grants, adding, “More so than an individual approach."


Columbia County’s Rocky Ford opined, “It would just be so much easier for the consolidation of towns to form one utility.

Mr. Ford said the County waste water treatment plant being built at Weyerhaeuser's industrial park was originally budgeted for $10 million. Recently, the cost was estimated at $28 million.

Mr. Ford left out that Columbia County foot dragging, inexperience, inattention to details, and ineptitude, caused untold delays and a tripling of the price. All the while, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity stood idly by.

Mr. Ford said, “To do it like it needs to be done and for all the counties to grow and be able to do economic development, to me, this regional utility is the only way I see it happening."

Connie Brecheen: Fort White Town Manager
Fort Whites Town Manager Connie Brecheen.

Town of Fort White Town Manager Connie Brecheen said that Fort White and other small towns look at their utilities “as a major income stream and they all are very reticent to give that up. That’s why they fall into disrepair, because that money gets used for operations and different things."

Ms. Brecheen said these issues need to be looked at when you're forming the regional utility.

County Manager Kraus mentioned that Columbia County had a utility attorney. No one from the County appeared to know the attorney’s name.

Columbia County’s former Economic Development Office Manager and newly minted Econ Dev Dir wondered if those with utilities would lose their edge if everyone had utilities.

Commissioner Ford said his goal for the meeting was to see if anyone was interested. Mr. Ford mentioned meeting every two weeks or once a month. He also mentioned that he has so many meetings he needs an “invite.”

The next meeting is set for the second week in July. The participants thought Lake City was a good meeting location as it is in the middle of the participant’s counties.

Mr. Ford said, “We could start handling it at each county.”

Baker County’s Register said, “For now, this is a good space and a central location."

North Florida Utility Consortium meeting.
An ideal space for consortium meetings. The room is set up for recording. No one in the County thought to record it. While the meeting should have been noticed, it wasn't. According to County Manager David Kraus, County Attorney Joel Foreman is responsible for the lack of notice.


During the meeting your reporter asked NFPS’ Dale Williams who thought of the meeting. He said, “Greg [Bailey].”

After the meeting, your reporter asked Greg Bailey whose idea the meeting was. Mr. Bailey said it was his.

County Commissioner Rocky Ford walked over and was asked the same question. “Rocky, whose idea was this meeting?” Mr. Ford answered, “Me.”


Durring the meeting, Baker County's Darryl Register explained that the St. Johns Water Management District increased Macclenny’s permit from 1.55mgd (million gallons a day) to 585mgd. Mr. Register meant to say the October 2022 permit authorized 505.52 million gallons a year or 1.385 million gallons a day (mgd).

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