At a workshop last week, Carrabelle city commissioners hashed out details of an updated proposal from The St. Joe Company to operate the water and sewer system at its SummerCamp development.
While the commissioners expressed a willingness to discuss eventually assuming operational control, they were not in favor of doing it now based on details of a proposed transition plan from St. Joe.
The proposed management agreement for operation, would be for two years starting in 2023, and Carrabelle would assume responsibility for day-to-day operations of the water and sewer utilities, including handling the sanitary pump out, maintenance of plants and facilities, billing and collections for the water and sewer utility usage and tap fees, all required testing and reporting and response to any emergency calls or plant alarms.
Carrabelle would keep separate books and records for the St. James Island Utility Company and in lieu of a management fee, St. Joe would cover operating deficits or actual costs with no markup and retain ownership of the facilities during the management period.
In addition, St. Joe would secure the operating permit for the wastewater treatment plant, including any required connections, lift station start-ups and any inspections typically required, with ownership of the water plant and wastewater treatment plant ultimately fully transitioning to the city of Carrabelle.
Carrabelle would continue to operate the facility, with St. Joe willing to discuss underwriting operating costs for a period of time.
“We agreed in principle to table this item until the city attorney and city engineer communicated with The St. Joe Company staff regarding a counterproposal to enter into a development agreement similar to agreements used for new subdivision development,” said Mayor Brenda La Paz, who plans to call a workshop or special meeting at a future date.
In his report to the city, City Engineer Russell Large, with Inovia Consulting Group, reported that previous discussions regarding the operation of the St. James Island Utility Company water and sewer plant had centered on interconnecting the existing sewer system back to Carrabelle’s treatment plant.
An earlier feasibility study had concluded the cost of the necessary improvements was relatively high and the net revenue generated by the additional users would not offset the cost of the capital improvements and the City of Carrabelle would need to set a new class of service for SummerCamp to establish different water and sewer rates.
La Paz said the proposed two-year time frame “was not enough time for the SummerCamp development to grow and develop enough to have enough homes and businesses that would produce enough capacity to operate the wastewater treatment plant.
“They need to get pipes in the ground to connect all of this and all of this needs to be connected to their wastewater treatment plant, and they are the developers and they need to do that,” she said. “That could take longer than two years and we can't take over in the fashion they want us to.
“St. Joe wants us to take over their facilities, but they’ve never been operated in 15 years and won't be able to be operated until there’s enough sewage as it needs a certain amount to operate.”
She said the city prefers to treat the matter like a subdivision, “as if we were expanding our services just like expanding out to Lighthouse Estates.”
La Paz said that while St. Joe has a working water treatment plant, it does not have sufficient capacity yet, but would require the city to fund a certified water operator for so many hours a day.
“We don’t have enough certified operators to do that,” she said. “Right now they ‘make water’ only one day a week, providing only 32 customers,”
As of Dec. 31, 2021, there were 499 total lots under SummerCamp’s approved Concept Plan, with 226 platted to date.
Of these platted lots, 38 water meters were in service, with 188 meters to be set with the tap fees not yet paid.
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