Utilities Inc. of Georgia meets with property owners

Photo by Jim Francis.
Don Sudduth, CEO, Utilities Inc. of Georgia, talks to Big Canoe property owners about his company’s plans to purchase the Big Canoe Water Company.

This is a continuing story. More information will be provided as it becomes available.

By Barbara Schneider This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The future of water rates in Big Canoe was a major topic of discussion during a Thursday, March 1 meeting hosted by owners of the Big Canoe Water Co. to introduce Utilities Inc. of Georgia, the pending buyer.

“We are excited to be here today to see you all here, to talk directly to you and not have that message filtered. We want to hear from individuals about their concerns and issues. I like to talk to people face to face,” Don Sudduth, CEO of Utilities Inc. of Georgia (UIG), told the Big Canoe property owners filling one room and overflowing into another at The Chimneys.

UIG he said is a subsidiary of Utilities, Inc., which operates in 20 states, providing services to U.S. military bases in Alaska and Georgia as well as over 650 water and wastewater facilities serving more than 300,000 customers across the county.

“We are virtually done with diligence; currently we are communicating with the [POA] board and deciding the best way to forge that relationship,” he said.

As an example of communities UIG serves, he pointed out two Georgia customers: The Orchard, a mountain golf community with 700 lots in Habersham County and The Landings on Skidaway Island on the Georgia Coast with 4,500 water and sewer customers.

“Long ago there wasn’t a good relationship at Skidaway. We [UIG] forged an agreement [with our customers there] through the courts and we follow the agreement,” he said. “UIG also serves several mountain communities in the Carolinas,” he added.

Photo by Jim Francis.
Bob Littell asking a question about how UIG will operate in Big Canoe.

“This kind of community, this size is our sweet spot,” Sudduth said, adding, “Once we close on the water company, our initial capital plan is to invest $7 million over the first five years and we are prepared to invest up to $1.4 million capital initially—year one—that’s within 12 months from closing day.

“When we take control of the operation, we will be able to fully assess the situation then get bids for equipment that is needed. We are fully committed to the assets and the services those assets can provide. We’ve already done quite a bit of work in Big Canoe to identify capital needs.”

He emphasized: “We don’t see any EPD or Safe Drinking Water Act compliance issues. It’s a mammoth old system that needs tightening up but we don’t see anything that scares us away.”

Don Sudduth, CEO, Utilities Inc. of Georgia, talks to Big Canoe property owners about his company’s plans to purchase the Big Canoe Water Company.

Sudduth fielded questions from the audience for more than an hour. One resident suggested the current rate increase should become “null and void” with perhaps a rate decrease from the economies of scale his firm offers.

“We are very open to walking in here and not increasing rates for two years—part of that calculation is the rates that are in place today. It doesn’t matter if the seller stays, if Pickens [County] comes in or we do, the rates won’t stay the same.

“I don’t want to give anyone a false sense that we will decrease rates. If we buy this we are going to hit go and start deploying capital,” Sudduth said.

Photo by Jim Francis.
The UIG presentation drew a good-sized crowd, overflowing into a second room.

“As a buyer, what is the full scope of supply you are buying?” asked another resident.

“We are buying [the water company’s] assets and source of supply. The fire plugs are part of the water system. We are buying the entire potable water and entire sewer system—wastewater treatment system.

“Our current system produces one million gallons of water a day,” one resident asked, “but, we’ve been told by a representative of the current owners 500,000 gallons a day are lost. What are your plans to reduce that?”

Sudduth expects to reduce that loss considerably by tightening up the system and installing ground storage tanks, new pressure valves, improving the distribution system and other equipment. The water loss in Skidaway Island was reduced to less than seven percent,” he said.

“The counties may have an interest in some of that supply,” he added. Smoke Signals will continue to follow this story; look for more detail in the April print issue.

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