Officials clear up "misunderstanding" over gas service to Stanton Springs

COVINGTON -- The mayor of Social Circle said city officials only want to cooperate with their Covington and Madison counterparts on providing natural gas service to Stanton Springs.

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston previously told the City Council that Social Circle Mayor Hal Dally had stated in a meeting between the three mayors that Covington would not be allowed to run a gas line through Social Circle territory unless it agreed to transfer part of its territory to Social Circle. Dally said there was never any threat made.

"Social Circle has always, since the first (memorandum of understanding) between the three cities, collaborated and been willing to partner with Covington and Madison. We have continued with that vein all the way through and we continue with that to this date. It's all about collaboration and partnership, not territorialism," Dally said.

Johnston later told the council that his previous statement was a misunderstanding and the statement may not have been made "in exactly that same context." Johnston said he believed Dally was trying to be more collaborative and cost effective and it was not intended as a threat.

Covington, Social Circle and Madison will share revenues and expenses of running natural gas inside the park at a breakdown of 37.5 percent for Covington and Social Circle and 25 percent for Madison.

Dally said that though Walton County has 150 acres inside the park, including the property where Baxter International will be, because of the revenue and expense sharing agreement between the three cities, from his point of view, territorial boundaries end once inside the park. Dally said he suggested partnering to provide service north of I-20 where the city already has lines.

The city will extend a line from where its current line stops east of Ga. Highway 11 and U.S. Highway 278 to provide initial gas service to the park. Later on, as needed, Social Circle and Madison could run lines, said Steve Horton, administrative specialist providing assistance to the mayor.

Johnston said there is a deadline of January 2014 to have gas in the park.

Johnston previously said that for the city to run a pipe to the park, it will have to go through a service delivery area belonging to the city of Social Circle.

During a recent meeting with the mayors of Social Circle and Madison, Social Circle Dally asked Covington to give up some of its service territory, according to Johnston. The property in question is located north of I-20, bounded on the east by U.S. Highway 278 and on the west by Ga. Highway 11.

Johnston proposed a compromise. About two years ago, as part of adoption of a required safety plan between the city and other providers, Covington transferred a service delivery area near Social Circle city limits to Social Circle, said Horton. Johnston proposed that property, along with the property that Dally requested, be subject to an intergovernmental agreement that would split costs and revenues of service between the two cities 50-50.

But at the council's June 17 meeting, he said he now thinks that wouldn't be in the city's best interest. The council agreed it will not enter into an intergovernmental agreement to split territory but will collaborate with Social Circle to deliver gas to that area by the most cost-effective means.