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Chiefland out of water deal

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Nature Coast Regional Water Authority is taking shape and it looks as if Chiefland will get its wish to not participate and to not lose any water from the city’s new wellhead site.

The discussion group forming the regional water authority hammered out the wording of its governing utility agreement with participation by Dixie and Gilchrist counties and the cities of Fanning Springs, Trenton, Cross City and Bell.

Chiefland had participated for several months in the discussions of supplying water to Trenton, Fanning Springs and Old Town. The talks started to break down when the Suwannee River Water Management District proposed forming the regional water authority and using the well that Chiefland and the District put in on 155 acres of land. The Chiefland Commission has not wanted to lose control of the wellhead or water rates to city residents.

Since then the city had approached the district about exercising its option to purchase 33 acres of the site and the District has approved the purchase. But the District board has refused to sell the remaining 122 acres to the city.

When the group meets again in late January, the 19 members will have two agreements to consider— one for the current six-member authority and one for a seven-member authority that includes Levy County.

Levy County has been invited to join the Authority, but with the county commission short two members due to suspensions, Chairman Nancy Bell is reluctant to move ahead on the matter, according to county officials. However, Shenley Neeley of the county’s planning department did attend the meeting.

The group also decided to go ahead with plans to do a study of possible wellhead sites within a 5-mile radius of State Road 26 and County Road 341 northeast of Fanning Springs.

Steve Minnis, director of governmental affairs for the District, said he anticipates going to the District board in January to do the well field study for the authority.” This can be done a pretty fast track,” Minnis said.

Ron McQueen, Gilchrist County administrator, said the group should move on the project — including a well, treatment and distribution system.

“We’re going to miss a golden opportunity for an economic stimulus package,” he said. “The kind of money we’re looking at . . .we could put in $20 million now and that’s capital debt free.

“The federal government is going to be giving away millions of dollars and $20 million would put in well fields and distribution lines.”

The said the water plans are not complicated and the project is just what Gov. Charlie Crist has charged with water districts to accomplish.