MARY ANN ANDERSON
During last Tuesday night’s called meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council, the months-long saga of running larger water lines to Beasley Forest Products on U.S. Highway 221 once again took center stage.
But not before Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay first took the floor, saying that he was “highly concerned” that fire protection for citizens is lacking in Hazlehurst while at the same time the city may incur more debt by running the water line to Beasley.
That portion of the meeting harkened back to the $5.087 million project okayed earlier this year to refurbish and add to the city’s outdated water system. Funding for the program included grants and a $3.877 million low interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority State Revolving Fund (GEFA-SRF).
But Stone assured Ramay that even if the city did have more debt, the payments would remain the same. That’s when Stone turned his attention to the Beasley project, which needs a 12-inch waterline to its operations to replace an 8-inch line that the city previously provided and paid for entirely. Beasley is in the midst of a $60 million expansion, and the current 8-inch line is insufficient in case of fire at its operations.
The mayor then added that running a 12-inch water line some 12,000 feet from the city to Beasley operations would benefit the city by adding a new well, tank and fire hydrants.
“Even with us paying off the debt, I didn’t think we needed to bite that off at this time,” he said. “So we went to the county to see if they would help.”
Among those in the audience for the meeting were County Administrator Keith Carter, County Commission Chairman and Altamaha District Commissioner Ricky Crosby and Ocmulgee District Commissioner Vann Wooten.
No representatives from the Beasley Group nor Beasley Forest Products attended the meeting, nor did County Commissioners Brad Crews, Hank Hobbs or James Benjamin.
As the councilmen and commissioners listened, Stone explained that the proposed 12-inch waterline to Beasley would connect to and be fed through the Baxley Highway and Gill Street wells and to a new well on Plum Street.
Stone then added that replacing the 8-inch line with the 12-inch was more than the city could financially bear.
When Stone and Joint Development Authority Director Andrea Taylor initially met with Beasley earlier this year to discuss the project, they were told by Phil Jarriel of Beasley that the company would fund $350,000 of the cost, an amount that would be augmented by a One Georgia grant of $500,000. That $850,000 would more than fund the waterline.
“But it didn’t work out exactly that way,” Stone said.
After yet another more recent meeting, Beasley agreed to fund only $200,000 of the water line, an amount that would be added to the One Georgia grant of $500,000 that Stone “feels confident” will come through by the end of September. That’s when he asked the county commissioners if they would commit to ponying up $61,000 toward the waterline. The total of $761,000 would fully fund the project.
Ward 3 Councilman Eric Griffin then explained that the city wasn’t getting a return on its investment for building the waterline except that it would better provide fire suppression for the city.
But then Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth pointed out that since Beasley is investing $60 million into upgrading its facilities, and thus providing more jobs for the community, that it would “make sense” for the city to fund the project even if the county doesn’t come up with the $61,000.
Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson then pointed out the city shouldn’t be in a “big hurry” to jump into the project until the One Georgia grant is approved. He also voiced his frustration that no representatives from Beasley were at the meeting.
“We need jobs in Hazlehurst and will do whatever we need to do to get them here,” Johnson said. “But somebody from the company should have been here to be able to talk for them since we are taking it on ourselves to help this business.”
Johnson stated that he is not against the project, adding that the council is “committed to do the right thing” to make everything come together.
That’s when Stone piped in and echoed Ramay’s exasperation from the beginning of the meeting, “We’re devoting this city’s energies and efforts and resources and other things to serve an industry when our people need fire suppression.”
He also reiterated that each financial part of the project had to “come through” – the $200,000 from Beasley, the $500,000 from One Georgia and the $61,000 from the county – or it couldn’t work.
Stone then added that another unnamed business also asked the city for yet another 12-inch line to its manufacturing location to be built on the Douglas Highway, even though it, too, like Beasley’s operations, is in the county and well outside of the city limits.
Turning his attention back to Beasley, he told the councilmen, “I would like for the council to approve the waterline, contingent upon the $500,000, contingent upon the $200,000, and contingent upon the $61,000 from the county. We can’t afford it all by ourselves.”
Stone and Bloodworth both told Carter, Crosby and Wooten that the county had “more resources” than the city, and that they were “pleading and begging” for their help.
Bloodworth then made a motion to go ahead with the project, contingent upon receiving the money from Beasley, One Georgia and the county, with Johnson seconding.
But that’s when Griffin expressed his dismay with J. Hiers Company of Baxley, one of four companies who had bid on the project. Hiers had bid $621,925, and Shockley Plumbing of Perkins bid $646,417. Two other companies also bid, Popco of Sylvester at $671,590 and Southeast Pipe Survey of Patterson at $836,492.
“I’m putting this out there,” Griffin said to the council of Joey Hiers, owner of J. Hiers Company. “He’s not doing it for that [bid amount], and I promise he won’t. It won’t get done for that.”
Griffin argued that Hiers had overruns and change orders on the airport parallel runway project, which cost the city more than it had anticipated. He then asked the council to not go with the lower bid from Hiers but instead to accept Shockley’s second lowest bid.
But Ramay reminded Griffin that none of the bids had been approved or accepted at that point.
Stone then went into a lengthy explanation of why the airport project went over Hiers’ bid amount – in a nutshell that much more fill dirt was needed than originally anticipated – telling Griffin, “I have never dealt with a person more accommodating and more trying to help and being honest and doing his work than Joey Hiers. I hate to be contrary to you, Eric, but you have your opinion and I have mine.”
When it finally came time for the vote on Bloodworth’s motion, it passed unanimously, which Stone said would complete the new well and tank, plus 75 new fire hydrants.
Bloodworth then asked the commissioners when the city could expect an answer on whether they would help fund the water line.
“When you get that $500,000 and that $200,000, we’ll give you your answer on the $61,000,” Crosby answered just before Johnson moved to end the meeting.