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Costs and Concerns Muck Up Plantation Bay Utility as County Begs for $10 Million

| February 7, 2019

Some of the images County Commissioner Joe Mullins circulated last week to other commissioners, of the sewer tank at Plantation Bay, which he says 'could bust' at any time.

Some of the images County Commissioner Joe Mullins circulated last week to other commissioners, of the sewer tank at Plantation Bay, which he says ‘could bust’ at any time.

Flagler County government knew it was buying a clunker six years ago today when it paid Daytona Beach developer Mori Hosseini $5.5 million for the private utility serving the Plantation Bay development Hosseini built toward the south end of the county, off of U.S. 1. It just didn’t know–or didn’t want to know–how much of a clunker it was.

The county bought the utility even though it was demonstrably overpriced, according to an analysis by the Florida Government Utilities Authority, and even though it knew that repairing the utility would cost millions of dollars more. It just didn’t know–or didn’t want to know–how many millions.

But it’s been finding out since. Total costs now may range up to $28 million, according to Commissioner Joe Mullins.

More critically: a sewer tank is “buckling,” “bending,” “indenting”–to use county officials’ words, including those of the county engineer–and is said to be in such critical need of repair that the county commission on Monday voted to ask the Legislature for a $10 million appropriation to fix the sewer plant, but without really knowing why the current emergency repairs the county says it’s undertaking (with a source of money that has itself not been specified) won’t suffice for now.

It was a hasty vote on top of an earlier $2 million request from the Legislature for the same utility, but a different aspect of it. All that for a utility designed to run as its own “enterprise fund,” meaning that Flagler County taxpayers at large (let alone state taxpayers) are not supposed to be paying a dime to underwrite operations, repairs or new construction at the utility. Only the utility’s rate-payers are.

That’s not been true, however: both the Legislature and the St. Johns River Water Management District have awarded Flagler County substantial dollars toward repairing the Plantation bay utility, the county itself is financing a loan to pay for repairs, while county staff is routinely used to work on the utility. Getting a further appropriation from the state for the utility also means diverting money to Plantation Bay that may otherwise have gone to broader needs in the county, the legislative pie being finite.

County Commissioner Joe Mullins.
(© FlaglerLive)

“I want to vote for this but I don’t think we really understand the budget implications that this is going to mean to us in the next year or two,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said before voting on the $10 million request, echoing trepidation by Commission Chairman Don O’Brien over the vagueness and shape of the proposal as it was rushed up to the commission, with little administrative vetting, by way of Mullins.

“We need to hear from experts and staff on this,” O’Brien said. “We have to know what we’re asking for, we can’t just say we need help and not have it specifically identified. The appropriations process, these bills are very specific. I’m not saying we shouldn;t prioritize it and get going on it, but I don’t know how you do that at this late, last minute without having specific information.”

Mullins held two community meetings with a group of Plantation Bay residents he referred to as a “focus group,” pledging to them that there’d be action and transparency on their needs after touring the plant and discovering what he considers to be an emergency situation. 

“We are taking a huge risk every day,” he wrote commissioners in an email last week. “I am told  the manager and former commissioner of district 4 knew about this issue.  I am not sure if you all did. The waste water tank  could bust and raw sewage would go all over the area at anytime. ” He attached several images. “As far as I know, This issue has never been addressed or spoken about to the commissioners  and it by far is the most important.”

Mullins  came to the commission’s meeting Monday claiming that the $10 million request would have to be placed by Tuesday to be valid–a deadline O’Brien found dubious, considering the fluidity of legislative appropriations–and the fact that, committees aside, the legislative session doesn’t start until March. County Engineer Faith Al-Khatib and Facilities Director Heidi Petito, briefing the commission on the utility’s projects and needs, had proposed a workshop. Mullins didn’t want to wait.

That was the context of Sullivan’s discomfort. “I’m really worried that we’re going to get ourselves in trouble here without having a little more” time, he said. He preferred to ask lawmakers for a “placeholder” until the county could vet what complications may be ahead.

“I know that’s not what people want to move out, and I think we could do some design, but I’m really worried about saying $10 million for wastewater without specifying it more.”

Staring at him was a chamber-full of Plantation Bay residents who’d come to see some action, though not nearly that specific of an action: the half dozen residents who’d spoken to the commission did so with remarkable restraint, conceding that what’s done is done (“getting stuck in the past isn’t going to get me the good water that I want,” Lisa Hill told commissioners) but also looking for more urgency on the part of the government to get something done.

In fact, things are getting done, Petito and al-Khatib tried to impress on commissioners. Just not on the wastewater side. 

“We have been working with this project for a very long time, we advertised to replace the whole system out there in 2017,” al-Khatib said, and phase one was awarded, with approval from the Department of Environmental Protection. That’s under construction. As for the wastewater treatment tank, “there is a temporary solution right now, we are working on fixing it, but for a permanent solution we have to come up with the funding.”

The county recently got a $6.1 million bid to build a reverse-osmosis plant, to be awarded “sometime soon.” The funding would be acquired through a state loan.

Mullins spoke in more dire terms. “This sewer issue is very, very big., because if that thing goes, it’s going to leak seepage into all over, and it could go any day,” he said. “No one can guarantee me that it won’t happen.” He said the problem was known since the time the county bought the utility and that it’s gotten worse since. But at least in degrees, his description of the problem was at variance with that of county staff’s.

In the absence of more concrete analysis at the ready–what would have been the subject of a workshop, for example–the matter was reduced to a political decision: five commissioners facing the constituency of a powerful subdivision. They voted to send the $10 million request to the Legislature, knowing the request was not committing them or the county’s budget to anything other than that extended hand. But it made Plantation Bay residents feel better–for now.

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21 Responses for “Costs and Concerns Muck Up Plantation Bay Utility as County Begs for $10 Million”

  1. Edith Campins says:

    The Coffey legacy lives on. I didn’t vote for Mullins but I have to say he is doing the right things. The water plan purchase is just one more of the sweet deals enacted by former commission members. We will be payng for this messfor years to come.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like the s*** is literally about to hit the fan.

  3. ASF says:

    Why isn’t Hosseoni being investigated for Fraud?

  4. interested says:

    If you google Plantation Bay it has an Ormond Beach address. Why is it considered in Flagler County?

  5. A Dedicated American says:

    Mori Housanni made out like a bandit. Craig Coffey knowing the broken down water and waste water
    facility was way over priced and the engineers report proved it. Coffey and the commissioners then along with the current commissioner Erickson voted to purchase it, except for George Hanns should be held accountable for what is happening now. Housanni has been taking advantage of all the residents with all his building that has put additional wear on the facility. Housanni should be made to compensate for the new water and waste water plant. And an immediate moratorium put on all building. I would think the state would do an investigation ASAP. Or are they going to wait for the waste water tank to explode.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    This is another of our county wasted taxes when Coffey and FCBOCC were commissioner Ericksen was a member decided to buy an overpriced Plantation Bay useless utility water and sewer for 5.5 highway robbery milllions plus 4 millions needed in repairs then, when actually they should have forced and under the law the ICI developer of Plantation Bay Hosseini to repair it, period! The EPA would have agreed! Buyer beware of Plantation Bay quality houses:

    But Hosseini runs the Florida legislature and the crooks in this county from his supposed “non for profit” Daytona Beach College and Halifax Hospital , Florida University, Embry Riddle ISC Speedway and you name it he runs Florida entities were he and wife are in its many boards. Hosseini bought a lot of land from ITT cheap just before they left us and turned around and sold some of it to these county (victimized us) for the Matanzas overpass for 3.5 millions when paid 2 million for it as non buildeable wetland.

    I do not want my overpaid county taxes to be spend in that disaster facility that county decided to get us stuck with to benefit Hosseini a super rich Iranian developer: This guy with the support of the FL politicians that he funds made himself rich by them squeezing the hard earned dollars we pay in taxes for his benefit and then throwing us a bone in appreciation to secure an honorary mention. He made himself in Daytona Beach and Volusia County and the sad status of blight and poverty run down communities in Daytona Beach is a proof of his successful dealing among others with the International Speedway benefits force supported by those taxpayers there.
    Mullins and the commission should go back to Hosseini an tell him they sold us a lemon and have him come up with the 10 millions in a credit loan to help Plantation Bay (that his ICI built) to be repaid by the users inside Plantation Bay not us.

  7. atilla says:

    Let the people who live in Plantation bay pay for it otherwise the gounty can pay for Palm Coast upgrade.

  8. A Dedicated American says:

    A little bit of food for thought. All the realators that sold homes in Plantation Bay should have disclosed to every purchaser the ongoing problems with the water and ICI continued to build homes knowing there were and are serious problems. It is all about MONEY and the tax payers are made to pay the price. Shameless!!!!!

  9. PC17 says:

    Any further funding spent on this issue should be done through special assessments to the residents of plantation bay, This is not a Palm Coast problem and as such Palm Coasters should not pay 70% of fixing this county screw up.

  10. tulip says:

    To Interested–I think Plantation Bay is an unincorporated part of either Flagler County or Palm Coast? Not sure how that works address wise, or which county Volusia or Flagler is responsible.

    The Bocc that was sitting at the time the water system was purchased from horrible Housein (sp?) guy that owned it and went right along with Coffey’s great deal in favor of Housein who, in turn, gave certain politicians big money for their campaigns.

  11. Victoria greco says:

    You have got to be kidding me? You think plantation bay should pay for the repairs to the water plant?? The community’s water quality is absolutely atrocious and in the meantime our water bills just keep going up!! There is no reason why we shouldn’t have quality water! This is not a third world country!! For your information the plantation bay resident tax payers HAVE been paying all along!!! It’s disgraceful!!!

  12. Bill says:

    @ interested says:
    February 7, 2019 at 9:20 pm
    If you google Plantation Bay it has an Ormond Beach address. Why is it considered in Flagler County?

    A mailing address does not always equal a city or town one lives in. the Mailing “address” is corresponding to the POST OFFICE location.

  13. Bill says:

    So why did the County BUY this piece of sh** knowing it was what it was/is? It was a privet water plant and should have been taken care of by those using it OR have been given to the county

  14. palmcoaster says:

    Because this Plantation Bay useless utility and the contaminated hospital purchases and remodel at several millions that maybe have to be balled down now for sickening sheriff employees working there, the famous Bobby Ginn Hangar we are still paying the loan for and many more costly goof ups funded is that my ad valorem tax in my house pays the county $1229 and my city of Palm Coast only $569 when the city has to serve 944 people per square mile, while county only serves 168 people per square mile as per the latest census. I own a small property in Daytona Beach and I pay Volusia county same I pay the city of Daytona Beach around $260 each and Daytona has its own police department in difference with us in Flagler that County gives us the Sheriff service to which city contributes additional 3 millions a year. City of Daytona serves 938 people per square mile and Volusia county serves 345 per square mile, being a more populated county than Flagler is at 3 times that size of Flagler County.
    Look at your house taxes and tell me if that is a fair distribution of our county versus city of Palm Coast…My taxes over funding the county helps to reassure that city will have to raise our taxes to comply with our services in the near future.

  15. John dolan esq. says:

    While Mr. Coffey and friends enjoy their golf and golden parachute we are left paying for misconduct and greed.

  16. palmcoaster says:

    Right on Tulip…history tell the truth as Mr. Haas a county manager for many years left the county to go work for Hoseinni the Plantation Bay developer and original owner of that useless utility that he con the county to even pay 5.5 million for it. Neither free would have been a good deal as was non working then, that is why he unloaded it to us via crooks in FCBOCC. and Coffey. AlKatifa county engineer sure knew about that utility misery and went along? What about then county legal team?

  17. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    No more building until our water/wastewater system is able to accommodate the additional 500 plated lots Mori Hosseini has developed waiting to build in Plantation Bay. No Certificates of Occupancy (COs) be issued on the current over 50 homes currently under construction until all 4 wells are in good operating order and have the capacity to provide potable water to every single lot in Plantation Bay.

    The outstanding Consent Order was originally issued to Mori Hosseini’s company prior to the sale to Flagler County and Bunnell needs to be complied with by Mr. Hosseini’s construction company money and not our tax money as planned.

    Volusia county needs to take some financial responsibility for the proportionate number homes in the Volusia County section of Plantation Bay. Craig Coffey should have been fired – his enabler Al Hadeed should be next for not encouraging the countey in 2013 to take control via court order and eminent domain at a fair appraised value ( which was not a dime over $2,500) not the total of $6million including closing costs.

  18. John F. Pollinger says:

    No one will ever convince me there wasn’t a shady deal between the county politicians and Mori Hosseini with the sale of this utility. Everyone knew the plant was failing and Hosseini was ordered by the EPA to fix it. Rather than taking him to court to force the issue, the Flagler politicians orchestrated a late night purchase that allowed Hosseini to walk away with over five million dollars for NOT doing what he was supposed to. The officials in Flagler County KNEW the water was unsafe to drink yet they continued to issue building permits while ICI (Hosseini) sold and built homes at the same time, not disclosing the water problem. The city of Bunnell quickly got out of the deal and now Flagler County owns the dilapidated plant that Plantation Bay residents have already been advised, will be paying for this shady deal through higher rates. Now, this article lays out concerns about the critical condition of the sewer tank, yet Flagler County continues is issue NEW building permits for homes, adding to the stress. My guess is Flagler County WANTS the new home construction to continue since vacant land is taxed less than a completed home on the lot and they don’t want to square off with Hosseini. Of course Mori Hosseini is ecstatic with the whole situation since he continues to profit from home sales, and continues to pad the campaigns of county officials running for office (check the campaign contributions he has made to those running for election or re-election). The fact this hasn’t been investigated by any state or federal agency is beyond me.

  19. john says:

    All you need do is to put a special assessment on Plantation bay and let them get a bond though the county for 30 years and they and only they would be paying for the repairs and paying back the bond it’s done many places so do it here

  20. Deali94 says:

    “a utility designed to run as its own “enterprise fund,” meaning that Flagler County taxpayers at large (let alone state taxpayers) are not supposed to be paying a dime to underwrite operations, repairs or new construction at the utility. Only the utility’s rate-payers are.”

    An enterprise fund is established by a governmental entity to account for operations of an enterprise activity. Simply put, it requires that the users of the enterprise activity (the sewer and water services in question) pay the various costs associated with maintenance, upgrades or whatever.

    So we now learn that “both the Legislature and the St. Johns River Water Management District have awarded Flagler County substantial dollars toward repairing the Plantation bay utility, the county itself is financing a loan to pay for repairs, while county staff is routinely used to work on the utility.” Was this money a gift? Is the Flagler County taxpayer on the hook for this money?

    My word man, we have the entire state, the St. Johns River folks and the average county taxpayer footing the bill for this gated community. Once again something stinks in Flagler County. If the sewer system in a town needs to be upgraded, the city taxpayers (users of the system) cover those costs. We do not go to the unincorporated areas for monies to cover our costs.

    Why should the entire county be forced to pay for the needs and wants of a few in their private enclave? If they cannot afford to cover the costs of repair to their water and waste systems, they should probably seek low interest municipal loans to cover the costs – loans to be repaid by the system users, NOT by the county.

    Is there something wrong with us that we keep electing people who have no intention of protecting the fiscal or property rights of the residents? Voters, wake up and learn where your tax dollars are being spent and what is being done with the real property we own. It is becoming more apparent each week that certain residents are more equal that others and receive greater favor from the various boards and commissions who are supposed to represent us all.

  21. Bystander says:

    To Interested : it’s because it is in Flagler County. Confusing but on the edge.

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