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Lake City News

The Report: Lake City Utilities, Where was it? Where is it? Where is it going?

Photo of the Lake City Utility Presentation Team. Left to right are Dan Sweat, Paul Dyal, and Mike Osborne.
Left to right: Asst. City Manager Dan Sweat, Utility Director Paul Dyal, Water Plant Director Mike Osborne | Columbia County Observer photo and graphic.

Lake City, Columbia County, FL – On Monday evening, Lake City's Utility Director Paul Dyal was to report to the City Council the status of Lake City's utilities. With economic development depending on access to utilities, water, sewer, and gas, this report was of great significance to the future of Lake City – Columbia County.

Why was Paul Dyal asked to make this presentation?

Columbia County and the City are working on Economic Development. The County's economic development strategy has been mostly nonexistent. Lake City doesn't appear to have any strategy at all.

The County paid for one economic development plan ($80,000 in 2009), the Rudder Plan. The state paid for an Economic Development Master Plan ($40,000 in 2014), which had the County's taxpayers kicking in an additional $17,250 to pay a consultant to finish the grant and the plan.  Both plans ended up in the closet, never to be seen again.

One can't have economic development without planning and utilities. Both the City and County have no plans and have been flying by the seat of their pants.

The Plum Creek project, which is now a Weyerhaeuser project, was supposed to be a bright spot in the County's economic development future. There was only one time that utility planning was kicked into gear. That was when former City Manager Wendell Johnson developed a plan to bring sewer service to the Plum Creek site.

County Econ. Dev. Dir Glen Hunter (rt.) and County Commissioner Toby Witt (back row) listen to the presentation.
County Econ. Dev. Dir Glen Hunter (rt.) and County Commissioner Toby Witt (back row) listen to the presentation. There is no county-wide economic development director.

Plum Creek didn't want to contribute to the construction, and the plan went up in smoke.

Presently, there are prospects at Plum Creek and other County and City regions where the City provides utilities. Lake City, the regional utility provider, has been caught short and in disarray.

Utility Director Dyal was to make a presentation informing the City Council and everyone about the City utilities: where it was, where it is, where it was going.

The Long Story, Short
The City Can't Perform

First page of the new Assistant City Manager's PowerPoint
The Utility PowerPoint presentation. Does it answer Councilman Sampson's questions? Your reporter's notes are provided with the page numbers he added.

Monday evening's presentation was prepared by City Manager Joe Helfenberger's recent pick for Assistant City Manager Daniel Sweat.

Councilman Sampson wanted to know about the City's current water-use permit from the Suwannee River Water Management District and "why the permitted capacity was reduced by 1.6 million gallons a day, and what the City was doing to get it back."

Mike Osborne is the Price Creek Water Plant operator and in charge of water utilities.

Mr. Dyal said, "Me and Mike have been workin' on that for the last several years. Just like yourself, we have not been able to get one document, specifically stating why they dropped the permit. They hinted to it, because of the water loss, but they have not sent us an official document sayin', 'That it was done."

Lake City water plant operator, Mike Osborne
Mike Osborne makes his presentation and answers questions.

Mr. Osborne handed out what he said was a copy of the water permit and then addressed the Council.

Mr. Osborne said, "This permit was originally done back in 2003 and was supposed to be a 20-year permit. When I started as director of the water treatment plant at the end of 2013, I contacted Suwannee River [Water Management District], and we've been in discussions..."

"I was given the old water use permit. That's the one that I had. I was not given this. In my discussions with Suwannee River, they came to do an audit of my wetlands. That's when they gave me this. I said, 'It's not the one I got, and we need to start discussing this. I've been discussing this with the previous City Manager and now Mr. Helfenberger. I've yet to be able to get any information from them on why they reduced it. They just told me it was reduced."

Mr. Osborne continued, "We are primarily for the citizens of Lake City. That's our job. That's my job. That's his [Dyal's] job, and that's what we lookout for... We can't get any numbers from Suwannee River, and we've been negotiating with them. I've tried everything I can come up with... We're doing everything we can for Lake City... The County's put a lot of pressure on us for the mega industrial park [Plum Creek]: raw water and this, that, and the other... This permit doesn't run out till 2023. I don't see Suwannee River doing anything to abate that, as far as a new one, until 2023. The best thing right now is to get the water that was taken away, put back in there for the next couple of years."

Paul Dyal making his presentation and answering questions with Asst. City Manager Dan Sweat keeping a close eye on him.
Paul Dyal made his presentation and answered questions with Asst. City Manager Dan Sweat keeping a close eye on him.  Photo: Columbia County Observer

Mr. Dyal gave his take on Plum Creek, "One thing I want to clear up and make perfectly clear... Everyone has been well aware that there was issues of being able to supply the industrial park. We've never said we couldn't do it. We've always said you've got to give us the time and the money to do it."

Mr. Dyal said memos were going back to 2016 and 2017, explaining what could be done at Plum Creek. They were not provided.

He said there were memos that the City needed to run water and sewer lines in the area and increase the gas capacity. They were not provided.

Mr. Dyal continued, "This is nothing new. Our job is to give the information that's asked of us to our management. What that management does with it is not on us. I want to clear that up. Everybody's blaming me and my staff that this information is not getting to you [the Council]."

Mr. Sampson asked, "You're saying we could provide the raw water?"

Mr. Dyal answered, "We have the capacity to pump 9 million gpd. What hinders us is our permit that says we can only pump 4.1 mgd. They've known this since 2016."

The Permit – The Facts What the City Isn't Telling You

A part of the Lake City Water Permit recommending approval by the water management districtNot mentioned during the presentation was that the application to modify the permit was filed with the Water Management District by Steve Roberts, then Director of Water Systems. On December 6, 2010, Mr. Roberts asked the District to lower the existing permit from 5.78 mgd to 5 mgd.

It is unknown why the City Manager or the new Assistant City Manager did not invite Mr. Roberts to the presentation. Mr. Roberts has another position with the City.

Mr. Osborne's handout version of the permit was missing many pages, including those explaining the reasons for the lowering of the permitted capacity from 5.78 mgd to 4.1906 mgd.

The March 24, 2011, staff report section of the permit explains the water reduction details.

Currently, the City has an unaccounted water loss of 38%, mostly caused by faulty meters and aging infrastructure. Staff made the City aware of this high percentage of water loss and is currently working to replace distribution pipe on an annual basis. The City's unaccounted for water loss was incrementally lowered to 25% over the remainder of their 13-year permit, thus, the Average Daily Rate (ADR) of withdrawal will be 4.1906 MGD.

The City provided no information comparing how many gallons of water it was pumping today and how many gallons it was billing. That difference would show the water loss through leaks, the reason for the permit reduction.

Included with the City's permit was the "Notice of Rights." This lays out the City's right to mediate or appeal the decision of the Water Management District. The City did not appeal or ask for mediation of the reduction.

According to Water Management District spokesperson Lindsay Garland, "The City could have, at any time after the issuance of the permit in 2011, applied for a permit modification."

Did the City answer the questions about the Utility
Where was it? Where is it? Where is it going?

No, other than to state that it is doing a study.

The County is also doing its study.


The City-County utility situation is a colossal Columbia County mess.

An interlocal agreement between the City and the County for recharge of the aquifer, combined with a demonstrated need for a permit modification, seems like the best idea to have the City continue to be the County's utility provider for water and wastewater, along with the continued use and monitoring of the Price Creek well field.

Without any effective management in either the City or the County, the next steps are unclear.

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