County signs deal with Lancaster
Union County is open for business, at least when it comes to water capacity. County commissioners signed off on a deal Tuesday, Jan. 17 with Lancaster County’s Water and Sewer District to obtain an additional 3 million gallons of water per day from the Catawba River Water Treatment Plant. The vote was 4 to 1, with commissioner Kim Rogers in opposition.
The plan calls for Union County to pay $18,341 a month for the additional capacity, which translates to an estimated $1 per gallon. Union County and Lancaster jointly own and operate the water treatment plant, with the two groups each allotted 18 million gallons per day of capacity, from a 36 million gallon total. With growth slowed down, Lancaster only uses 10 million gallons per day, while Union uses all of its allocation.
“We’ve been working with Lancaster for the last year and a half now, to see if they would be willing to lease us some of their capacity,” Union County Public Works Director Ed Goscicki said. He explained that Lancaster is still paying off debt for its portion of the water treatment plant and the $18,341 monthly lease payment translates into 16.67 percent of that debt.
“This is exciting news,” county commission vice chair Todd Johnson said. “I’d like to applaud the efforts of Ed and our chair (Jerry Simpson) to repair some bridges I thought were burned for good.”
Goscicki told commissioners that the lease was for five years, as both groups expect to expand the plant in 2017, eliminating the need for the excess capacity,
Currently Union County is growing at a 1.5 percent rate, while Lancaster’s growth has slowed to almost zero percent. Even if the growth in Lancaster skyrocketed up to 4 percent, Goscicki said, there wouldn’t be an issue until after 2019, according to current projections.
Other commissioners questioned the idea however.
“It’s existing customers that will be paying,” commissioner Kim Rogers said, asking why residents should pay for something she didn’t believe they would benefit from. “(Also), what happens in 2017 if we don’t get that extension? We could go back to zero watering.”
Rogers was concerned that the county would allocate the water capacity, then find in five years the expansion couldn’t happen, leaving businesses or possibly residents with limited water during a contract negotiations.
Goscicki explained that under the agreement, if Lancaster wanted to terminate the deal, they would have to give two years notice. He also pointed to the projections showing Lancaster, even with a sudden explosion of growth, wouldn’t need its full 18 million gallons until after 2019, long after the expansion would be complete, even with any delays.
“Lets not be shortsighted here,” commissioner Jonathan Thomas said. “We’ve got a real need in this county, we’re in a position where Union County doesn’t have a water source. We need to jump on this while we can.”
With the extension, Thomas said he was concerned a company hoping to build in Union wouldn’t be able to, due to lack of water capacity.
The contract goes into effect Feb. 1.