For the second time in barely a year, Flagler County government has taken a clunker from Bunnell.
A year ago the county took back the old county courthouse after Bunnell realized it was too much of a wreck for its budget to take on. The county ended up leasing the building to a Christian school, but with a taxpayer-supported $375,000 subsidy to the school to help refurbish the building. The school has 30 years to pay back the money, interest free.
On Thursday, Bunnell transferred the deed of another massive and much costlier clunker to the county: that of the Plantation Bay water and sewer plant, a wreck that Mori Hosseini, the developer of Plantation Bay, had wanted to unload for years, skirting state regulatory requirements and threatening to take the county to court if the county attempted to buy the utility at a lesser price than he wanted. In 2010 the county had estimated the cost of acquiring the utility at $2.6 million. It ended up buying it for more than double the price, not counting the additional millions for upgrades, even as the utility only aged, creaked and depreciated further since.
The county knew it was acquiring a ruin. It drafted Bunnell’s help so it could get a huge loan on favorable terms—the sort of terms offered a municipality, but not a county government. It was a purely expedient deal, and when Flagler County no longer needed Bunnell, the two divorced–even as Bunnell City Manager Larry Williams claimed it wasn’t a divorce at a joint meeting late last month. But that’s only because the two sides had been in an arranged marriage of convenience.
Now the Department of Environmental Protection will play along and transfer the loan to the county. But while the county tried to put a happy face on its acquisition with a news release issued Thursday, the deal has only become more of a cesspool since its initial consummation two years ago, and not just because the sewer side of the plant is a wreck, something commissioners knew all along. But because the water treatment plant is in much worse shape than originally thought.
Plantation Bay’s 1,600 customers can live with a crappy sewer system. It fits the bill But they’re having a hard time drinking what has all the literal appearances crappy water: brownish and unappetizing.
“You can do the required treatment the state wants you to do to produce healthy water, water that’s not going to hurt you, and still have it look bad, have a color to it, maybe even a smell,” Commissioner Barbara Revels, who sympathizes with the residents’ plight, said. “And in fact that’s what those residents are getting.”
The county rates Plantation Bay’s water “acceptable.”
Residents consider that rating unacceptable, especially when soaked in the sort of significantly steeper bills they’ve been paying. “To go from $48 a month to $90 a month is an outrage,” one Plantation Bay resident told a joint meeting of the county and Bunnell commissioners on Sept. 23 (when the commission at times sounded more defensive than transparent). But cost is only one part of the outrage, though those costs may get even steeper soon.
“It seems like you’re all very happy with these arrangements and I really can’t stress enough how we’re not,” another resident said, summing up the way many other residents felt. “We are the ones who are drinking the water, and we may not die tomorrow, but every time we get our bills in the mail, they’re two, three times larger than what they used to be. And we get the quarterly report, how our water can produce cancer or many other illnesses. We are not happy, and we have questions. I’m not a politician. There’s a lot of things I don’t know. But we have questions. We want to know if the fees we’re paying, all this extra money that has been added, is being used to improve the system or is being used to pay for the loan? It’s like we mortgaged the farm, and with the money, we didn’t fix the farm. So now, we have a big mortgage we’re paying for, and it’s still a fixer-upper. So how does this work?”
Part of the loan Flagler took out with Bunnell was supposed to help pay for improvements. So far, the system is not fixed, she said. “I see you patting your backs for working on this and we appreciate the time you put on it, but if you’re going to ask us if we’re happy, no, we’re not. We’re very worried. We don’t know how we’re even going to benefit from this change. We just don’t know how things are going to improve. There’s so many un knowns, and we’re there every day, drinking the water, giving it to our children, our pets. Are all these questions ever going to be answered?”
The clearest answer is this: the county owns the plant, but the unexpected cost of improving the water plant is now somewhere in the range of $3 to $4 million. That’s the county’s estimate, suggesting that, when the actual cost is calculated, it may be steeper still. The county doesn’t have that kind of money. It can only come from two sources: taxpayer money through a state grant that the Legislature would appropriate, or from Plantation Bay’s ratepayers, through yet higher rates.
“What was not built into those initial rates was a new water-treatment system,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. “So that could be a $3 to $4 million project.”
“Of course those improvements get placed on those who benefit from it, and the rates would have to go up because of it,” County Commission Chairman Frank Meeker said. “That’s why we’re hoping to get the grant. We certainly don’t want to raise the rates on them.”
But that may be the only option. Commissioners acknowledges that in the list of Flagler priorities, when Flagler goes hat in hand before the Legislature, other plans, such as the Malacompra drainage system, are ahead of Plantation Bay. That’s assuming there is even a desire on the Legislature’s part to provide the kind of money Flagler is looking for, or that Flagler’s two junior representatives in Tallahassee—Sen. Travis Hutson and Paul Renner, both first-term rookies—have any pull at all to steer money this way.
Commissioners are not regretting acquiring the utility: they see the acquisition as bailing out residents of Plantation bay rather than bailing out Hosseini, the developer, thought they also realize what position they’ve been put in by years of neglect at the plant.
“I think the original intent of the purchase was to take over something that wasn’t meeting the needs of Flagler County residents and hoping to get it headed in the right direction,” Commissioner Charlie Ericksen said. “The developer had no interest in putting money in it, had resisted and turned his back on the state and I don’t think the state made any efforts to make Mr. Hosseini to go along with orders issued by the state. We seemed to assume in the beginning that the water was OK, and that the sewage was the worse. It’s turning out to be just the opposite.”
I always figured that FCBOCC bailed out Hosseini as usual they gave the green flag to any developer misusing our hard earned tax funds.
Mr. Ericksen to your long excuse and still shameful satisfaction of the purchase of that useless utility my reply is; the county commission, not the state gave millionaire developer Hosseini the permits to build Plantation Bay and its utility and should have held his feet to the fire when it came the time of his mandatory compliance from DEP and other agencies to fix the utility failing performance or else! No, then you commissioners, all driven in your wagon by Coffey, went out there like a bunch of drunken sailors flashing our hard earned tax funds and engaging City of Bunnell to be able to get the loan and got it!
Then you promised that the rest of us in Flagler County would not be funding a cent of that deal….now we want that promise complied. How are you going to fix this mess? Because you let your buddy Hosseini off the hook. Didn’t you get a loan for the purchase and also the repair of the utility? I recall you gave Hosseini 5 to 6 million for it and were looking for a 9 or 10 million loan that will cover repairs? If so then where did the money go and why still no repairs? I am wondering what is the next lemon you are planning to fund with this county taxpayers idiocy at the ballot box.
County Commissioners in bed with Developers. Who would have thunk? Put them on notice and vote them out. Keep records and statistics about any rise in the rate of illnesses and cancer among residents served by this supposedly “safe” water treatment plant. Enlist the know-how of any attorneys and retired attorneys in the community that might be able to advise the residents about civil actions available to them, both now and in the future (even perpetuity) and start collecting any records they feel might serve those interests in the future. Make sure that the powers that be know that this is being done. Money apparently talks. And, if they know that lawsuits (that personally names them, including Mr. Hosseini and all the county commissioners) may be in the offing, they may become a little more proactive about the concerns of the residents–if only to possibly save their own butts in the future.
Housseni throws his money and power around to get what he wants. He has contributed big money to commissioners campaigns. He threatens to sue the county and the commissioners all grovel at his feet and give him anything he wants, while H snickers all the way to the bank and could care less about anything else.
I guess the greed of campaign money overrides any morals and the courage to say no and put a man like Housseni in his place. Shame Shame
Sherry E says
Hopefully lessons learned about allowing “private” companies to develop and control “vital” services! Those who want to do away with government and just “outsource” and let capitalism control everything. . . take heed!
Sherry It is the government that made the poor decision here buying a run-down water company and bailing out the builder So what good is more government going to do ie socialism?
We need representatives that have a real fiduciary responsibility to those that elect them
Why is the poor condition of the facilities here a surprise to the commission?
Don’t we depend on them to make sure our hard earned tax dollars aren’t falling into a money pit
In the next election let’s all demand to know exactly where the donations to campaigns come from
WISHFUL THINKING says
County could a – should a – taken it over via eminent domain and condemnation years ago at fair market value – the state agencies let the former owner get away with violations for years and years and even postponed the consent order issued in 20013 to stick it on the new owners – us….
The county was well aware of the game going on between the former owner and his pals at the state level but turned a blind eye – then stuck us paying double the value of this ancient system using the excuse that eminent domain proceedings would have taken so long that we might be doomed by now….
what a joke – on us…
mr reasonable says
Who in the world drinks tap water? Or worse what parent is letting their child drink tap water? Also most all houses have water filtration systems regardless.
The Waterman says
Water filters and bottled water are going to be selling like crazy. I suggest boiling you water for at least 10 minutes before drinking it…..That treatment plant is disgusting. Don’t even let your pets drink that stuff.
Yes these rabid conservatives that want to privatize it all…even our jails are being privatized causing the prison population to grow for profits!! Minor drug and substance citizens and illegals sent to jail by the thousands so the feds pay up with our tax funds for these private jails fatten the wallets of millionaires.
We are being taken to the cleaners by these crooks and that is why our taxes never to being increase. Leave our government owned services as they are…take your paws of our USPS, our Justice System, our Fire and Law Enforcement services and all you want to grab , because we need the services we are paying n our taxes and not in private for profit pockets! Also vote only those candidates that want to pass Gun Law Regulations, so this massacres can be prevented.
Campaign donations are a part of the public record and available for every election. Go to the SOE’s website. You can search any election you want. We know we have a strong history of cronyism here. These are not popular stories for local media to cover. If anyone attempts to point it out, they are attacked and accused of doing it for personal gain.
All of the negatives on this were pointed out at the time of the hearings and it was done despite that. Now it is time to file a complaint with the EPA or the appropriate state and federal agencies. First you must prove the water is unhealthy and the owner in violation. If you can do that you can shut it down.
And then you can stop sitting out elections or reelecting the same people to public office. Each of them seems to profit from each and every deal around here. It is your local government that IS the problem, here. Until then, Bon Apetit!
Sherry E says
Right On “confidential says” ! The point is that this water plant should NEVER have been put in the hands of a “private” company to begin with!! Here again, allowing the privatization of vital services, like education, all utilities, police, fire control, etc. etc. is akin to allowing the fox to guard the hen house.
Wake up people, most “private” companies exist solely to maximize their profits to line the pockets of themselves and the 1% Billionaires! They do NOT care at all about protecting the consumer! Think this through, your TAX dollars are being shifted from paying for safe, economical and clean “regulated” services. . . to the owners and stock holders of such despicable companies.
Your tiny tax “cut” dollars are now required to pay for water filtration systems because you chose political leaders who are obsessed with doing away with government regulations and outsourcing everything possible= very dangerous Hyper- Tea Partyism!!!.
Now our local government is left to clean up this mess. . . which will cost our tax payers even more! Adding salt to the wounds. . . those living with the unhealthy water now have higher water rates to pay!
Rich Mikola says
It appears the ‘fix’ was in and Mr. Hosseini is laughing all the way to the bank. It also appears that the ‘rubes’ on the county commission were taken for a ride at the expense of the residents of Plantation Bay.
Another Flagler County example of the blind leading the blind. Now lets just make our voters sick.
My understanding is that a good portion of Plantation Bay is in Ormond Beach. Who is supplying water and sewer services to that area? Its hard to imagine that its the system Flagler County bought. And if it is not the Flagler System, then the area residents and the Flagler County Commission would have been much better off if they arranged to have the Ormond Beach system extended to provide the service.
The subject system serves all of Plantation Bay including the units in Volusia County.
It’s not the blind leading the blind it’s Cofey leading the blind. I’ll set Cofey ran all the way to the bank.
Ex-Plantation Bay Resident says
When we built our estate home, I noticed the yellow/brownish water in the bathtub and again in the water pitcher, so I called Culligan to purchase a whole home water filtration system. The rep was honest when he told me that the water was so bad in Plantation Bay that the system would not remove all of the impurities etc. He suggested a water cooler with reverse osmosis water and a delivery monthly. At least he was honest and saved us $$$! I worry about the children and long term health effects.