A judge ordered Monday that the Brunswick Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer commission must allow developers of a subdivision under construction off of Harry Driggers Boulevard to tap in to the sewer system.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison granted RLF Carriage Gate Properties’ request for a writ of mandamus Monday, which compels the utility to provide tap-ins for the subdivision in the northern mainland, despite the utility’s argument that the sewer system is overloaded.
“The court does not doubt the JWSC’s representation that its system is over capacity, nor is it unsympathetic to the unenviable position in which the JWSC finds itself,” Harrison wrote.
JWSC officials have long been warning the public that the sewer system is at or over capacity in many areas of the county, and that if new developments are continually added on to the system, it will eventually result in another large spill like the one that landed the utility under an Environmental Protection Division consent order.
The utility’s argument that allowing the developer to tap into the system would have negative repercussions wasn’t enough to persuade the judge either.
“There is no evidence that, when that connection ultimately occurs, it will lead to a catastrophic spill with irreparable consequences for our community,” Harrison wrote.
In particular, Harrison pointed out that the sale of a sewer tap wasn’t the same as a developer actually tapping into the system.
“As RLF points out, however, the JWSC’s issuance of taps will not lead to any dwelling immediately connecting to the system,” Harrison wrote. “At this point, none of RLF’s lots have sold, and there are no dwellings on any (of) RLF’s lots.”
Currently, the project is underway to reroute a sewer line from pump station 4048 on U.S. Highway 17 around other stations and directly to the Academy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant on U.S. Highway 341. That project is the first part of the larger Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax-funded project to bring more sewer capacity to the north mainland and will provide some capacity in the short term. Officials have estimated that the work will be done in early 2018.
Because houses like those the developer plans on building take between six and 12 months to build, Harrison wrote that the capacity may already be available when the time comes to tap in.
“At least according to the JWSC’s own timeline, the repairs may be complete (by then),” Harrison wrote.
Utility Executive Director Jimmy Junkin said the order didn’t sound like it would solve the issue for those who are looking to buy lots in the Carriage Gate subdivision.
To get a certificate of occupancy from Glynn County, a homeowner must have direct access to the water and sewer systems, if applicable. When that time comes, if the 4048 project isn’t already complete, the utility will still have to tell the county the system is over-capacity. In the order, Harrison wrote that the JWSC will still have “the power to suspend to discontinue system use,” if the repairs are not yet complete.
“While this gets the developer the taps they need right now, does it change the situation is my question?” Junkin said. “Who’s going to build knowing that, according to the judge, knowing that I’ve still got the power to stop service?”
Junkin said it seems like the decision merely moved the issue of capacity from the developer to the people who buy the lots in Carriage Gate when it is complete.
As for whether or not the utility will appeal the decision, Junkin said he would need to talk about that with the utility commissioners. He said they will likely talk about it in a closed session at the commission’s next meeting, 2 p.m. Thursday in the utility’s offices at 1703 Gloucester St. in Brunswick.