Polk/ICWD contract workshop set for Monday, Oct. 27

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 23, 2014

by Leah Justice

The Polk County Board of Commissioners set a workshop for Monday, Oct. 27 to discuss a proposed contract with the Inman Campobello Water District (ICWD) regarding sharing water resources.

The workshop will begin at 8 p.m. in the commissioners meeting room of the Womack building in Columbus.

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Commissioners met Monday, Oct. 20 and set the workshop as well as heard public comments from 12 residents who expressed concern over the contract and urged the county to slow down the process.

Renée McDermott began citizen comments saying the board of commissioners seems to be in a hurry to complete the contract with ICWD.

“This may be the most important, and far-reaching, contract Polk County has ever entered into,” McDermott said.

McDermott said the people of Polk County own Lake Adger, their tax money paid for it and it’s not the majority of commissioners’ to give away.

McDermott, a retired environmental attorney, said she also practiced utilities and regulatory law including work for public and private water utilities.

“I know what I’m reading when I read a contract like this,” she said. “This is a bad deal for Polk County in the form it’s in right now. There needs to be significant changes before Polk County enters into such a deal.”

Kate Bond said shortly after she moved to Polk County there was an exceptional drought so she understood when the county decided to purchase Lake Adger. She said she feels like citizens don’t have enough information and the county is moving too fast.

“Please slow down the process,” Bond said. “We have plenty of time. We need to be very careful about not giving away our most valuable resource.”

Bond also suggested public hearings and to take time to let outside experts look at the contract.

Guy Greaves, a Lake Adger resident, said he is extremely concerned with water sources, not only in this county, this state and this country, but this world.

“Water will be a very precious commodity in the near future,” Greaves said. “There should be no plans, no intentions to give this commodity away.”

Greaves said we are getting ready to face an election with the possibility of new people sitting in commissioner seats. He said these people should be in charge of doing the research. Greaves said people at Lake Adger and this county will have to live with commissioners’ decision for 20 years and it will be a decision commissioners will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

Matt Bond asked why the county would not apply the same principles they just applied to a new jail.

“What’s the rush,” Matt Bond asked. “What’s the emergency?”

Mike Davidson said not too many years ago when Polk entered into negotiations to buy Lake Adger he asked the question if it was the county’s intention to sell water to South Carolina. Davidson said the answer from the county was a resounding “no.”

Davidson said while it may be a good decision to sell some of the water, the county needs some strict limitations on what income the county should make to ensure Polk gets a good deal.

Glenn Grindstaff asked how much Lake Adger could be drawn down under the new contract and if the amount of water ICWD could take is different from what Polk County can now take.

“If Inman Campobello can take the water from Lake Adger, sell it off and make a profit off of it, why are you giving that profit away,” asked Grindstaff.

Christel Walter said water is probably the last frontier.

“ICWD has made a business proposition to you,” Walter said. “It’s a sweet deal for them. Is it for us? You’ve got to get it right.”

Commissioner chair Ted Owens addressed the contract during commissioner comments. Owens said he has no desire to ever let Polk County water be taken advantage of. He said he has had to deal first hand with a drought and it’s always been his desire to find somebody to provide water to Polk County.

He said Polk had that opportunity in 2006-2007 to take over Lake Adger, and by the way, Polk County wasn’t the only ones who wanted to buy the lake.

“I’m not going to sit back and let Polk County get a raw deal,” Owens said.

The workshop, placed on Monday’s agenda by commissioner Tom Pack, was scheduled so commissioners can receive input on the draft contract from attorneys. Polk attorney Jana Berg said it is not permissible for the board to give instruction to staff in closed session so the meeting had to be open to the public.

Although not normal procedure, the workshop will be open for written comments from residents pertaining to the contract as well as public comments to be made at the end of the work session.