Water authority meets Tuesday morning on Griffin contractBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Changes are being made to the Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority's water purchase contract with the city of Griffin.
The nature of the changes couldn't be determined on Monday, but the Coweta Water and Sewerage Authority was set to meet Tuesday morning in closed session for litigation purposes.
The Coweta County Board of Commissioners took action on the contract Thursday night, following a closed session to discuss litigation, personnel, and real estate. Authority attorneys, staff, and a board member attended Thursday night's county commission meeting.
Representatives from the water and sewerage authority did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. County officials directed questions to the water authority.
The authority, and Coweta County, have been seeking changes to the 50-year water supply contract for several years.
The contract requires Coweta County to purchase a specific amount of water each day, whether it's needed or not. The amount ramps up gradually, reaching 7.5 million gallons per day in 2025, then gradually decreases through the end of the contract.
When the water authority became its own entity, the contract, and the responsibilities under the "take or pay" provision, were transferred from Coweta County to the authority.
Because the authority is required to buy so much water from Griffin, the B.T. Brown Water Treatment Plant is barely used — that's why the authority went into the business of bottling water at the treatment plant.
In late 2009, the authority contested the city of Griffin's validation of bonds for a sewer expansion and some water projects, and offered a check for nearly $7 million to become a partial owner or "equity partner" in the Griffin system. The contract mentions the ability to become an equity partner, but doesn't define what that would mean. The attorneys for Coweta and the authority argued that becoming a partial owner would relieve Coweta of its "take or pay" obligations, and also allow the authority to purchase water at cost.
Under the existing contract, the authority must pay Griffin a rate that covers the cost to produce the water plus 20 percent profit.
Spalding County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards ruled in favor of Griffin in February 2010.
The authority appealed, and was rejected by the Georgia Court of Appeals on Feb. 9, 2011. The three-judge appeals court panel unanimously upheld Edwards' ruling, but did not offer a written opinion.
The authority then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. That final appeal was unanimously rejected on May 31, 2011.
The Association County Commissioners of Georgia had filed a "friend of the court" (amicus) brief on behalf of Coweta. The Georgia Municipal Association and the Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority filed amicus briefs on behalf of Griffin.
The authority did win a small victory in mid 2010. An investigation by the authority determined that Griffin was miscalculating the rate it was charging Coweta. The miscalculation was based on the difference in the amount of water that was produced at the water plant and the amount of water that was actually sold to Coweta and other customers. Some 20 percent of the water produced by Griffin was "unaccounted for water" lost through various means, including leaks.
The settlement agreement, which was approved in August 2010, lowered the rate and gave the Coweta authority a $600,000 credit on previous bills.