Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay Utility May Alter Its Role with Developers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay Utility May Alter Its Role with Developers

Article excerpt

Byline: Binyamin Appelbaum, Times-Union staff writer

ORANGE PARK -- The Clay County Utility Authority has agreed to consider paying for construction of water and sewer mainlines now paid for by private developers who are reimbursed as customers connect to the system.

Advocates say the new policy, a common practice at larger utilities statewide, would encourage commercial development by reducing start-up costs, an important consideration in a county eager for jobs. Most agree paying for pipes also would accelerate expansion, helping the utility expand its customer base and generally reducing each customer's cost per gallon.

But board member Mae Byers questioned whether the authority could afford to build pipes without immediate customers. She also noted that paying for pipes would accelerate development generally, rather than specifically promoting worthwhile projects.

"I just want to be careful that we aren't the banker fronting the money for a development that doesn't need to happen," Byers said.

The Clay County Utility Authority was created by the Legislature in 1994 as the county's sole provider of water and sewer services. The authority is run by seven board members appointed by the Clay County Commission. It has 30,000 customers, annual revenue of $36 million, and $42 million in long-term debt.

At present, the authority pays for the construction of pumping stations and sewage plants but not pipes.

The impetus for the proposed change is a lawsuit filed by the authority against its Jacksonville counterpart, JEA, over the right to pump water into the Clay County portion of the Villages of Argyle, a permitted but undeveloped area encompassing several thousand acres along Branan Field Road just south of the Clay-Duval county line.

The lawsuit was filed last January after Hutson Land Co., which owns 6,000 Argyle acres, entered into negotiations with JEA for water and electric service. Hutson plans to develop the land as Oakleaf Plantation, a mixed-use project with 7,800 homes. …

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