By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The North Lee County Water Association faces competition from Tupelo on a water system it operates but doesn’t legally own.
Tupelo this month filed a motion to block North Lee’s bid on the Auburn water system, saying it wants it for itself.
“We think we’re in the better position of serving customers,” said Tupelo attorney Otis Tims. “The city has the financial resources and the track record. Our water supply from North Mississippi Regional Water System is significantly better in quality and we’ve had no boil-water notices. The same can’t be said for North Lee.”
North Lee had purchased the Auburn system last summer from the Mooreville-Richmond Water Association, but it never got permission to do so from the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
Without the commission’s permission – in the form of a certificate – the system still legally belongs to Mooreville-Richmond.
In December, and comprised of a new board, North Lee tried to rectify its oversight by filing an application for certification. It also did so for another system, Lake Piomingo, which it serves but doesn’t technically own.
But, according to Tims, Tupelo had already approached Mooreville-Richmond about acquiring the Auburn system years ago. Officials were shocked to learn that the association secretly sold it to North Lee.
Moore-Richmond operator David Faust, who has been with the association for about two decades, said he doesn’t recall Tupelo ever expressing interest.
Tims also said that state law allows cities to provide water up to one mile outside their borders, and portions of the Auburn system lie within one mile of Tupelo. Other portions lie within one mile of Tupelo’s proposed annexation areas, he said.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said both sides will have an opportunity to make their case at a public hearing in Lee County. The hearing date hasn’t yet been set.
Auburn has two wells and serves a population of 1,082, according to the state Department of Health.