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Supervisors place moratorium on development in Punkin Water area

A moratorium on all new development in the Punkin Water Association franchise area has been enacted by the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.

The moratorium went into effect at approximately 8:30 a.m. on Monday, and will not affect any development in the area that has already received preliminary approval. However, it will affect those that haven’t, county building inspector Joel Hollowell said. The decision is a response to recent complaints from PWA customers, which resulted in action from Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley in May.

“As you are all aware, over the past few months there have been numerous problems with Punkin Water Association, a lot of complaints,” Hollowell said in the meeting. “As a result of that, we felt like it would be best at this time to ask that you place a moratorium on any new development that would occur in the PWA franchise area.”

All developments which have already received preliminary approval, but are awaiting final approval, will not be impacted by this decision. Some of those developments include: two phases of Pebble Creek, approximately 123 houses in Old Oaks of Oxford, phase seven of Tuscan Hills, Cottages at the Highlands, phase 10 of the Highlands and 409 Commercial.

While the supervisors are not acting under direct order of the Public Service Commission, supervisor Kevin Frye said the moratorium is the “only lever the county can pull” to help the situation.

“We don’t have any authority to fix Punkin Water’s issues. What we can do is stop development, get everybody on one team. We all have the same interests: better water and adequate service,” Frye said. “If the Legislature had, in this year’s term, passed our utility authority bill, we would be in a position today to provide assistance to Punkin Water.”

Frye said the board intends to ask again to pass legislation for the creation of a utility authority, which will allow the county to work with all of its rural water associations. Whether that will take place in a yet-to-be-called special session or in the regular 2019 session is unclear.

A bill for the creation of a Lafayette County utility authority passed in the state House of Representatives during the 2018 regular session, but was, for all intents and purposes, killed when it was not brought to the state Senate floor.

According to the language of the moratorium, the county will temporarily suspend the acceptance of will-serve letters. Developers in attendance expressed concern, especially one in particular who had a will-serve letter prepared but had not yet received preliminary approval.

Board president Jeff Busby addressed one concern, citing a decision from the City of Oxford to work with Punkin Water Association to reach a deal in which the city would assist Punkin Water in its operations.

“It is my understanding that the city and Punkin Water Association are working something out, hopefully the sooner, the better,” Busby said. “We don’t like to be a part of this situation, but in light of the Public Service Commission, we feel like, at this time, we have to step up to the plate.”

Busby added that the moratorium would be lifted dependent upon findings from the Public Service Commission, as well as Punkin Water Association’s ability to make certain improvements.