Supervisors discuss utility authority bill

Published 12:34 am Saturday, March 13, 2010

NATCHEZ — The board of supervisors meeting room was the site of a polite turf battle Friday morning.

And the war isn’t over yet.

Natchez Water Works Superintendent David Gardner appeared before the supervisors to express concerns that the Adams County Water Association was taking steps to control water distribution to future industrial developments in the area.

Gardner based his claim on changes made to a bill submitted to the state Legislature recently regarding the St. Catherine Creek Utility Authority.

The utility authority was created by the board of supervisors in 2007 as a new entity that would manage a portion of the former International Paper site, operate a landfill at the site and provide water and sewer services to future industrial prospects. The property the authority would manage was one coal-to-liquids fuel company Rentech did not want to buy.

In December, Adams County Water General Manager Ken Herring asked the board of supervisors to put their stamp of approval on a proposed bill that would amend the law governing the utility authority to eliminate its involvement with water service to the site.

Herring, who is also a board member on the St. Catherine Creek Utility Authority, said Friday that he wanted to streamline the process for companies locating at the site, making it easier for them to go directly to the water provider to lay pipes.

The supervisors, in December, unanimously approved Herring’s request and the bill was sent to the Legislature.

But the bill gives Adams County Water an unfair advantage, Gardner and Natchez Water Works’ attorney Walter Brown said.

The men argued that Herring’s move was motivated by his desire to see Adams County Water receive a contract to provide service to Rentech.

By eliminating the utility authority’s responsibility for water, Adams County Water could apply for a grant through Mississippi State University that would fund $2 million worth of research that could potentially benefit Rentech.

The grant was one Rentech applied for, but was denied. The grant would have researched whether or not a lateral aquifer under the Mississippi River could provide water to the industry.

Herring said Rentech then approached Adams County Water, asking the association to apply for the grant.

The water association did apply, and grant approval is pending, Herring said.

Brown argued Friday that this relationship could mean Adams County Water will get an exclusive contract to provide water to Rentech, since the St. Catherine Creek Utility Authority would not be involved.

Herring said Adams County Water is funding the study and Rentech has a right to back away or do whatever it wants to with the study. Adams County Water’s only interest is bringing Rentech into town, he said.

“We want to help Rentech, not put a feather in our cap,” Herring said.

Gardner saw the matter as a sly business move though.

“They are just like us,” Gardner said. “They are looking to generate income to keep rates competitive.”

Adams County Water Association’s attorney, Jim Herring of Canton — no relation to Ken Herring — said the association was happy to abandon changes to the bill and revert to the law as it is.

Jim Herring said he would like to add a stipulation that St. Catherine Creek Utility could not interefere or encroach upon Adams County Water’s areas.

District 5 Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter offered the motion that the supervisors accept the law, as amended by Jim Herring’s request.

Brown asked for time to review the stipulation.

District 4 Supervisor and board President Darryl Grennell motioned that the board give Natchez Water Works until Monday to read the bill. The motion passed 3-2, with Felter and Supervisor Henry Watts voting no.

Felter said Brown, out of his own self-interests, was just looking for a way to delay the law’s passing and he would have a new plan for delay Monday.

“We’re ready to stop wasting money paying lawyers so we can help people in the rural areas,” Ken Herring said.

District 3 Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell said he didn’t agree with Adams County Water’s rush to get the bill through.

“Rentech is going to do what they are going to do, regardless of any action we make or don’t make today,” Campbell said.

“This whole situation has been blown out of proportion.”

In other business:

The board accepted the Gibson and Associates, Inc., bid of $65,000 to repair the damage done to the north dock at the Natchez-Adams Port.

In executive session regarding personnel, the board voted to allow Randy Hazlip to continue to manage the county’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy.