Tidewater Environmental Services Inc. has approached Milton officials to purchase the piece of land where its wastewater treatment facility is located.
The utility has reportedly had the 6.1-acre plot of land on Front Street appraised at about $200,000. Tidewater bought the wastewater plant from the town in 2007, but Milton remains the landowner. Tidewater is still repaying the town for the facility.
While reviewing records for all its properties in the state, Tidewater President Jerry Esposito said, it was discovered the utility did not have an easement on the property. In the contract between Tidewater and the town, the utility was to eventually construct a new facility elsewhere in town. The lack of growth in Milton changed the company's plans, Esposito said, and the utility is trying to keep the facility in its current location.
“The growth didn't occur as we anticipated,” Esposito said. “With just a little bit of work, we'll be able to keep the plant functioning [at a high level]. If there's still no growth, we can keep the plant there for a long, long time.”
According to Tidewater's contract with Milton, the utility would dismantle the existing plant within six months after a new facility was built on land near the proposed Key Ventures development off Sam Lucas Road. Upon completion of the development, the town was to annex the land then sell 18 acres for $1.5 million to Tidewater to construct a new facility. The development was never completed, however the land was annexed into town. The contract states that if if Tidewater does not acquire an 18-acre parcel from the town, it will receive a credit of $1.5 million toward the remaining balance of the wastewater plant sale.
Tidewater paid $2.5 million as a down payment with the remaining balance being paid in installments of $1,500 per home added to the system.
Former Mayor Cliff Newlands said at the time of the sale Milton was building homes at a rate of 100 new homes per year, resulting in income of $150,000 annually. In the current economic conditions, he said, a little more than $35,000 is collected because only about 25 new homes are being constructed each year.
Following an increase in wastewater rates last year, some residents are not keen on doing anymore business with the utility.
“I am absolutely opposed; I don't care at what price,” said resident Jim Welu. “[The land] is a significant piece as far as the redevelopment of downtown Milton. I think it would be a big mistake for the town to give it up.”
Esposito said the uses for the property are very limited, and it makes sense for Tidewater to continue its operation there. He said about $2 million in upgrades have already been put into the plant since 2007 to ensure its compliance with state regulations, and further upgrades will allow Tidewater to operate at the facility for years to come.
Mayor Marion Jones said a decision with such magnitude should have time to breathe and she would prefer delaying any decision on the possible sale of the property until townspeople have an opportunity to have their voices heard.
“I would think when you go selling town land you better ask the townspeople, even if that is a required referendum,” she said. “That's along that riverfront and there's been years of comments about cleaning up that river rather than adding more industry to it, so I wouldn't cherish being one of seven votes to make that decision.”