"I have never had a member of this community come to me and say that it is a good idea to have someone else have control of your destiny," said City Commissioner Shannon Cox. "Basically if we control the tap, we control the plant. If we own the plant, we are in charge."
Between the Kentucky River and the reservoir, Winchester Municipal Utilities has always maintained adequate access to water. However, WMU's current water plant - parts of which are a century old -has been edging closer to capacity for years.
Today, WMU pumps slightly less than 4.5 million gallons of water per day (MGD), with a water plant that is rated to pump at a peak capacity of 6 MGD.
Utility officials project that growth will outpace the water capacity sometime between 2011 and 2013. Higher capacity is also needed to meet obligations with Sekisui S-Lec America, which seems poised to move forward with a second phase of operations at its plant in the industrial park.
The industry, which manufactures film for automotive glass, uses about 300,000 gallons of water per day in its processes. While recruiting the industry, local officials committed to supplying Sekisui with an additional 1.3 million gallons per day if Phase II plans move forward. Sekisui officials have reportedly told officials that the water would be needed by the first quarter of 2011.
Winchester has participated in regional talks to increase water supply since a drought in 1999 led several utilities in the Bluegrass, including Kentucky American Water company in Lexington, to create the Bluegrass Water Supply Commission (BWSC).
Over the years, BWSC has considered several options to increase treatment on a regional scale. One plan involved construction of a 25 million-gallon-per-day treatment plant at Pool 3 of the Kentucky River. However, the deal fell through when Kentucky American Water announced plans to build the plant on its own.
Since then, officials here have concentrated on two options: Becoming a wholesale customer of Kentucky American at a rate of about $2.68 per 1,000 gallons of water or purchasing water from BWSC at a rate $3.29 per 1,000 gallons.
Either way, WMU would have to implement millions of dollars of infrastructure upgrades to accept the water, and officials have struggled with uncertainty over what upgrades are needed and how much they would cost.
Officials from BWSC and Kentucky American have also used different formulas to calculate the project costs for each option, making a direct comparison difficult. Many of the figures remained unclear Thursday, which Burtner called "unsettling."
"Let me just say it with the bark off here," said Burtner. "We are sitting here, in part, needing to honor a commitment that the community made to Sekisui as a result of a commitment that was made to Winchester by the BWSC."
City Commissioner JoEllen Reed also criticized Kentucky American Water for not producing clear figures on its proposed purchase agreement.
"I'm going to say one more time tonight again how disappointed I am in Kentucky American's attitude here this evening," she said. "It's bordered on nothing but sheer arrogance."
By the end of the meeting, several officials indicated that the choice was clear. But many have also warned the decision is only a first step in a long process that will involve funding and constructing the plant.
"This is just the beginning of a lot of work that has to occur in order to carry out this particular objective," Burtner said.
Burtner said officials will search out means to lesson the cost, such as applying for grants. But he cautioned that the project will have an impact on rate payers, and expressed concern that grant funding will not be "anywhere on the order of magnitude of what the cost is going to be."
WMU General Manger Vernon Azevedo also predicted an impact.
"It's going to be costly for the community," he said. "We are going to have to work very hard to find ways to hold the cost down, but that's our job. That's what we are going to do."