Dozens attend meeting on Georgetown water sale
GEORGETOWN — A public meeting on the sale of water to a proposed mine near Homer on Friday drew about 90 people, who were able to hear presentations from officials and ask questions of them.
Alderman Carl Johnson said Georgetown City Council members decided to host the meeting because audience members have been asking for an opportunity to learn more details about the council's plan.
Georgetown City Council members voted unanimously on June 17 to sell up to 500,000 gallons of water a day to a new Sunrise Coal mine, which will be built near Homer, almost 20 miles from Georgetown. Audience members at council meetings have asked about the capacity of the aquifer near Cayuga, Ind. where Georgetown draws its drinking water, and about the process for getting water to the proposed mine.
A representative from the city engineering company, a representative from Sunrise Coal LLC of Terre Haute, Ind., two former mayors and the city's former water superintendent made presentations to the audience, and then the five of them and Johnson answered questions.
Robert Kohlhase, an engineering manager with The Farnsworth Group of Peoria, said the aquifer the city draws it water from is "very generous, and is a renewable supply." He said the aquifer, the pumps and the water lines should have no difficulty producing an extra 500,000 gallons of water a day.
Darrell Acord, who was mayor from 1997 through 2009, thanked the former council for deciding to improve the city's quality and quantity of water by getting its water from an underground source near Cayuga in 2003, and thanked the current council for looking out for the city's future and finding an opportunity to increase the water department's base of customers.
Dennis Lucas, who was mayor from 2009 until earlier this year, said he supported the sale of water to the mine as a way to generate funds to repair and upgrade the city's aging water infrastructure. Lucas said he disagreed with the way that the decision was handled, though, and criticized the council for not bringing the information before the public before the June 17 vote.
Council members met with representatives of Sunrise Coal, The Farnsworth Group, and the city's streets and alleys superintendent and the city's gas and water superintendent in pairs, rather than at a committee meeting or a special full-council meeting.
Because only two council members were at each meeting, the meetings were not subject to the state's Open Meetings Act, and the public did not have to be notified of or allowed to attend the meetings.
Johnson defended the manner in which the meetings were held, saying that holding four separate meetings for pairs of council members was easier than trying to schedule one meeting for everyone.
"Have you ever tried to set up a meeting for seven council members?" he asked the audience.
Former water superintendent Ed Shirley said he is impressed with The Farnsworth Group, and that the revenue from the sale of water to the mine could be used to pay back water department loans, to repair or improve water infrastructure in the city, or to reduce residents' water rates.
Suzanne Jaworowski, the communications director with Sunrise Coal, said the agreement will benefit both parties.
"We wanted to buy water, and Georgetown wanted to sell its water," she said.
Albert Clark, the vice president of the Cayuga Town Council, said Georgetown owns land outside of Cayuga, and that he is not concerned about Georgetown exhausting the aquifer by drawing an extra 500,000 gallons a day from it. Clark said the Cayuga Town Council is trying to redevelop its decommissioned weapons depot into a new industry that may need 10 million to 12 million gallons of water a day from the same aquifer.
Clark did say that he had read the 30-year contract between the city and the coal company, and that he would not have signed it. He said it gave too many advantages to the coal company, and not enough assurances to the city.
Virginia Barker, a resident who was present in the Mary Miller Junior High School cafeteria for the meeting, said she received a lot of good information from the meeting. She said she hopes to see the council take seniors' water bills into consideration when deciding how to spend the revenue from the coal company.
Gracie Dukes agreed that the meeting did some good.
"It is about time that the council had a meeting like this," Dukes said.
Janet Martin said getting information and education were very important, and that she wished that more people had attended the meeting.
Mayor Kay Sanders said most of the information provided at the meeting had already been given at city council meetings.
"If everyone had been at the council meetings, they would have known all this," Sanders said. "Tonight's meeting was unnecessary, but if it educated some people, then it was worth it."