Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Problems Delay Utility Purchase; Commission Cites System Damage Issues

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Problems Delay Utility Purchase; Commission Cites System Damage Issues

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon, Shorelines staff writer

St. Johns County commissioners balked again this week at moving forward on a proposed purchase of a water and sewer utility serving about 15,000 customers in the Ponte Vedra Beach area.

The commission Wednesday voted to delay making an offer with a specific price for the St. Johns Services Co. and they cancelled a public hearing on the matter that had been scheduled for April 27.

In addition, the commission directed the county attorney's office to seek an opinion from the Florida Attorney General's Office to see what authority the board has to regulate any other government utility, such as JEA or Beaches Energy Service in Jacksonville Beach, should they try to buy the utility service in the northeast corner of the county.

The commission's hesitance came after more reported problems with St. Johns Services Co. utilities in the Marsh Landing subdivision. Problems in that neighborhood caused the commission to delay the purchase in February when Ann Crawford said her family was still waiting for the utility to fix damage to her home on Marsh Landing Parkway after sewer backups in September.

Crawford said Wednesday there were still more issues to be resolved with the damage caused by the malfunctioning sewer system.

"We do believe there are other existing liabilities relating to damages to our house," Crawford said during a two-hour discussion on the possible purchase of the utility. She said it was "not appropriate" to outline all the outstanding issues in public.

Michael Saylor, vice president of the Bessent Hammack & Ruckman engineering firm in Jacksonville, hired by the utility to look into the problems, down-played the significance of the sewer problems in Marsh Landing and said they were mostly related to unusual circumstances when two hurricanes hit the area last year.

He said the issues could be fixed for about $300,000 if St. Johns Services did the work but that that figure would be about $360,000 if the county did the work.

But Commissioner Karen Stern didn't like what she heard and noted some of the complaints from Marsh Landing residents regarding sewer service dated back to 2001, long before the recent hurricane season. …

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