The Divorce and Marriage of Beaufort and BJWSA

8 mins read

By David M. Taub

Sometimes great presents come in ugly wrapping paper, and sometimes you win by losing. Here’s how this story goes. I was elected to the Beaufort City Council in 1985 and served one four-year term; I lost reelection. Less than a year later, I was elected Mayor. Go figure — the voting public is a strange beast. 

For a long time, Beaufort had its own wastewater treatment plant off Waddell Road. This aging facility, supplemented by three so-called “package plants,” processed sewage and dumped effluent into Battery Creek and Beaufort River. Beaufort served more than half the county north of the Broad River. Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (BJWSA) had a few small wastewater facilities (e.g., Dataw and Shell Point). BJWSA provided water throughout the county; however, Beaufort too provided water but ironically used BJWSA transmission lines. 

Half the customers, and more than half city revenues, came from customers living outside Beaufort. They paid higher rates than city customers. Mayor Henry Chambers believed non-city folks who did not have municipal services to gladly opt for annexation for the benefit of obtaining good water and sewer. It was a very successful inducement for folks to come into the city. And they did.

It was a burr under the saddle of BJWSA that Beaufort had customers outside its municipal limits and, adding salt to that wound, charged these customers more than BJWSA did. Mayor Chambers said providing services outside the city was based on an agreement between Beaufort and BJWSA that was memorialized in a map that demarcated areas where only Beaufort would provide services. No one could ever locate the map with its so-called “green line” demarcation. To my knowledge, it has never been found. Interesting, no? There was no unanimous agreement between the two entities as to who could provide services where.

Around 1986, a new general manager, Dean Moss, took the helm of BJWSA, and several very savvy and talented board members took over, including such luminaries as Scott Graber, Charlie Peyton, Sandy Yearly, Coach Jim Carlen and others. There was a new sheriff and deputies in town, and BJWSA moved forward aggressively to expand its services. In 1995, BJWSA decided to contract with Del Webb’s Sun City Hilton Head to provide all water service. Beaufort believed Sun City was in its service area. The city’s contract with BJWSA stipulated that BJWSA must request and be given permission by Beaufort to provide water service outside the city’s service area. They did not do so for Sun City.

Beaufort and Port Royal sued BJWSA for contracting with Sun City to sell them water, insofar as the city averred it was in their service area. Beaufort was going to war and prepared to fight the good fight over its turf—the gauntlet had been cast down. To put it diplomatically, BJWSA’s board was very angry with us; some members were uncomfortable that Tom Davis, Beaufort’s representative on BJWSA’s board was seated at the table and privy to their strategic discussions about responding to Beaufort. He was asked to leave, and he did. You can imagine what “expletives deleted” characterized those heated BJWSA Board meetings. 

Beaufort lost completely. Not only had Beaufort lost its right to provide services outside its boundaries, but also non-city customers could choose BJWSA instead. Would they? Duh! The court’s decision was a scenario portending the financial death knell for Beaufort. A financial Sword of Damocles dangling precariously over the heads of the “City Fathers.” We were crushed, humiliated and scared; it did not take a doctorate from the London School of Economics to understand Beaufort faced economic ruination; no way could we raise in-city utility rates to compensate for substantial losses resulting from the lawsuit. Moreover, the city’s old system desperately needed repairs, estimated to cost millions Beaufort did not have nor could expect to generate. 

BJWSA was heady from the sweet wine of victory. Who could blame them? They were playing political poker with a hand heavily stacked in their favor — they knew it and so did I. BJWSA Chairman Michael Bell asked for a meeting with me, City Manager Gary Cannon and City Attorney Bill Harvey. We met and detailed discussions began. Early on, I favored merging the city’s system with BJWSA; fortunately, BJWSA did too. However, I was strongly opposed by some long-time Beaufortonians. I caught a flagon of what we were processing on Waddell Road; I neither liked the smell nor the taste, which I can assure you did not resemble ice cream in the least. After several sessions of tedious negotiations with Bell, Terry Murray (BJWSA’s dynamic CFO) and Moss, we agreed to turn over Beaufort’s entire system, lock, stock and crumbling package plants — the city would be out of the water/sewer business permanently. BJWSA removed the package plants, thereby cleaning up Battery Creek, and agreed to replace the aging main plant on Waddell Road, locate a new state-of-the-art plant outside Beaufort and return the land to Beaufort as a park, all of which they did in a timely fashion. 

I would be remiss if I did not observe that BJWSA dealt with city in a most professional and generous way during these negotiations, and the resolution we reached together has benefited all the citizens of the city and county. I also should note that Councilman (later Mayor) Bill Rauch played a major role in making the park part of the deal. The moving finger having writ, Town of Port Royal quickly sold their system to BJWSA too. Almost overnight BJWSA became King of Water and Sewer for all of Beaufort and Jasper counties. The city had lost, but in the losing, ultimately won — best deal I ever made as mayor and damn good for the citizens.

What an irony that about 10 years later I was chairman of BJWSA’s board, serving alongside several long-term members who had previously said unkind things about “City Fathers.” We all kissed and made up.

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999, and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate Judge from 2010 to 2015. He may be contacted at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.

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