The Columbus Light and Water board voted 3-2 Thursday to offer almost $1 million to a local developer for sludge disposal land in Lowndes County.
If he accepts the $996,000 offer, Russell Sheffield, of Sheffield Construction, would receive about $8,441 per acre for his 118-acre property near Pickensville Road and Shady Lane.
The land, which was appraised once at $500,000 and once at $1.8 million, could solve CL&W”s long-term sludge storage problem.
The board decided not to pursue a second offer of $450,000 for 115 acres owned by Ronnie and Donna West, of West Brothers Construction.
Although the Wests” bid was cheaper, the board would have had to pay engineering and sludge disposal permit fees. Sheffield has already paid for both fees.
The Wests” land also had hydric soil deposits, which could indicate wetlands, said CL&W General Manager Todd Gale.
Another issue is that the Wests” land has timber, which CL&W may have had to clear, said board member David Shelton.
Gale said he talked with two contractors who said the price to clear 115 acres would be at least $250,000.
Ronnie West orally agreed to pay for timber removal as long as he could keep the wood, Gale added.
But Shelton said an oral agreement did not matter because it was not in the bid proposal.
Even after additional costs, the Wests” property costs at least $196,000 less than Sheffield”s. If CL&W paid to clear the land and mitigate the wetlands, the total cost of the Wests” property would be about $800,000, including high estimates of permit and engineering fees.
However, if the board pursued the Wests” property, the permit process would take about two years, Gale said. Sheffield is now awaiting approval for his permit from the Golden Triangle Regional Solid Waste Authority.
Shelton, a retired businessman, made the motion to offer Sheffield $996,000, a month after making a motion to offer him $1.18 million.
Following a sometimes-heated discussion, Shelton and Brady Gardner voted to make Sheffield the offer while Tom Sneed and Jimmy Graham voted against. Chairman Jabari O. Edwards broke the tie, siding with Shelton and Gardner.
The board had voted along the same lines against tabling the discussion minutes before.
Graham, who made the motion to table, said he thought board members should take at least until next meeting to “look into need and cost” of the project.
“I don”t say that”s a bad idea down the road,” he said of buying land. “But it”s not a pressing need.”
Sneed, who seconded Graham”s motion, said he was not against buying land, but wanted to wait “until we can calm down and give it better consideration.”
“It all boils down to money,” he said. “I personally think the price we talked about last week is high.”
But Edwards said the issue should be decided as soon as possible because the board has been told by the city and county that it may not be able to dispose of its iron oxide sludge at the Lowndes County airport much longer.
Both Shelton and Gardner agreed with Edwards, saying they thought the issue should be dealt with immediately.
“I feel that it”s something that we need,” said Gardner, who encouraged board members to “quit dragging their feet.”
After Graham and Shelton exchanged heated words, Edwards said he thought the disagreement was “a personality issue.”
“For me,” he added, “this whole process is becoming so petty.”
If Sheffield rejects the board”s offer, the board can amend its proposal or choose another option at its next meeting.
The plan is to gradually take treated wastewater from CL&W”s three storage lagoons just south of Columbus and iron oxide sludge to Sheffield”s land, Gale said. Once there, the sludge, which does not smell and is not toxic, will be spread four to six inches deep and then tilled into the ground.
The decision to buy land follows the board”s decision to spend $368,443 raising lagoon levees in 2009, when lagoons grew almost to capacity, Gale said.
Raising the levees was a short-term fix that bought the board about 20 years but did not solve the overall problem of storage space, Gale said.
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