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Feb. Community Coffee 007

Quite a few community members attended the Community Coffee Feb. 11.
PHOTOS BY JIM FRANCIS

Water leads hot topics discussed at Community Coffee  

By Barbara Schneider

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POA President Phil Anderson opened the Saturday, Feb. 11 Community Coffee, noting more than 160 seats had been set up but many more were needed for the larger than usual crowd.

Community Coffees, Anderson said, are an informal way to discuss issues of importance to Big Canoe. Saturday’s topics and subject matter experts (SMEs) were: Hollis Lathem, chair of the water task force; General Manager John Thompson, internet task force; POA Director Steve Wilson, ‘Troon management firm; and John Mann, chair of the firehouse task force.

Water distribution biggest concern

Lathem said the Nov. 5, 2016 water break and six-day outage affecting about 25 percent of Big Canoe families, was the catalyst for the task force. “We have determined the cause was carelessness and the result, devastation,” he said referring to the pump problem—the root cause of the outage.

“There is a [pervasive] 50 percent water loss in the system that continues. That means for every gallon of water you get in your house you’re paying for two gallons.”

Lathem, in a phone conversation with Smoke Signals on Feb. 13, said, he met with two members of the Byrne family to discuss water company issues on Jan. 30.

Big Canoe Utilities, the firm supplying water (and in some areas sewer service) to the Big Canoe community is privately owned by Bill Byrne, Big Canoe Company partner and developer, and his daughters.

At that meeting, Lathem said, one daughter told him major improvements were planned for the water company and they were getting ready to sign a contract with an engineering firm to do the work. When Lathem responded that it sounded like they [the family] were prepared to make a major investment in the water company, Byrne’s daughter Tara said, “We aren’t putting money into [improving] the system. It will be paid by the end users.” Another daughter commented that the users hadn’t been paying enough in the past.

Feb. Community Coffee 009
 POA Board President Phil Anderson welcomes everyone.

 

Exploring next steps

The good news: Big Canoe Utilities is working to prevent future problems at the failed pump station.

The bad news, Lathem told the Community Coffee audience, is the water company isn’t for sale and the current owners plan to finance needed improvements through higher rates and assessments.

“You and I are going to pay for that,” he said. He added the task force is just getting underway and exploring options. “We are not through, but we are not ready to make our plans public at this time.”

An after-the-fact email to customers dated Feb. 6, 2017 announced a rate increase effective Feb. 1 2017.

“To all Big Canoe Utilities Customers:

“As we continue to have increased expenses to provide water and sewer services, Big Canoe Utilities will be increasing the base rate for water and sewer services effective February 1, 2017. . . Therefore, it is necessary to increase the base rate by $5.00 per month and the water commodity will increase by $.10 per thousand gallons. The sewer rate will increase to $55.09 per month for those customers who are on the sewer system.”

Considering Troon advantages

POA board member Steve Wilson said, “we will develop our own contract with Troon where we will have overall control.”

The POA board is exploring ways to save money through Troon, an outside management company, using the firm’s ability to negotiate volume discounts for insurance, health insurance for staff and purchasing.

“We’ve sent a request for information (RFI) to Troon but we’re not in any hurry; we will make sure every question is answered,” he said.

Wilson announced Ham Gadd, Regis Falinski, Cindy Marushak, Jim Braley and Tony Tebbutt would be members of the newly formed Troon analysis and negotiation task force. Wilson, Thompson, Tony Galioto and Mike Rhodes will be advisors to the committee.

Thompson, internet and Mann, fire house, provided status updates on their projects, with Mann urging the property owners to vote “yes” for the fire house and return the ballots by March 3.

Feb. Community Coffee 021

POA Director Steve Wilson announces the Troon task force.

 

Lots of questions

After brief opening statements from each SME, the audience asked questions with the water company generating the most.

Charles Pollard: “If the Byrne family isn’t going to invest in the water company, we need to go out for competitive bids to buy out the water company.”

“We’ve been told before—and again last week—the water company is not for sale,” replied Anderson.

“The water task force is looking at other options,” added Lathem. “We have four other entities that would run this [water company] as an authority.”

“Is supply or distribution the problem?” asked Dean Golden.

The distribution system is the problem, not the water quality, replied Lathem. “The plastic pipe is inadequate and the backfill materials they put in are not good for that use. These water problems threaten our quality of life.”

“We need to dig into the matter of legal rights for residents,” said Lee Arthurs. “This isn’t ‘fair and reasonable’ treatment or service.”

In other questions and comments:

Michelle Toups said she would like to see Troon’s management organizational structure. She asked: “Could the [new] fire station be over designed?”

John Rasmussen said, “Big Canoe property taxes are paid to Pickens and Dawson counties but we get nothing. Put pressure on them to help pay for the fire house.”

Taylor Leonard questioned whether fiber to the home for the internet project could be co-located with water pipes along the side of the road. He also raised the question of Ellijay Telephone Co. (ETC) considering calls from Pickens to Dawson counties metered calls. Thompson said he would check into that.

    

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