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Clay utility executive retires

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BY DAN HILDEBRAN

Monitor Editor

The first executive director of the Clay County Utility Authority ended a 40-year career in the utilities industry at the end of 2013.

Ray O. Avery ran CCUA since 1995, one year after the Florida legislature created the organization.

According to a CCUA statement, Avery purchased the water utility Diversified Utility Services/Mid-Clay Service Company in 1986, which he operated until 1995 when he merged it into the newly created CCUA.

During Avery’s tenure, Clay County’s population grew from around 120,000 to over 194,000.  He oversaw CCUA’s growth and according to the utility, it has become one of the largest residential reclaimed water systems in Northeast Florida. The reclaimed water program now conserves approximately 1.46 billion gallons of water annually.

Avery also managed CCUA’s expansion into the Keystone-Heights area.   Last year,  the utility added to its southwestern Clay assets by laying a water main from its Postmaster Village well to the Salvation Army camp at Crystal Lake.

Avery is also a former board member of the Clay County Development Authority, a current YMCA board member and a 38-year member of Middleburg’s First Baptist Church.

CCUA Supervisor Greg Clary said Avery’s time at the utility should be judged by the state of the organization he oversaw.

“It is very difficult to create an organization this size with the character and integrity, and the culture of honesty, hard work and representing the public the way it is permeated all the way through,” he said. “It is so apparent to me.  It is astounding. Many organizations our size have problems and struggles and obviously you and your leadership has created an organization that this public and this county should be extremely proud of.”

Developer and former CCUA supervisor Jerry Agresti said he and Avery go back to pre-CCUA days when Kingsley Services operated a private water company in Orange Park.

Agresti recalled that in the 1990s he could see that the future of Kingsley Services was in doubt and he was concerned about the future of water service in Clay County because rates in St. Johns County were 300 percent higher than those in Clay.

Agresti added that community leaders successfully lobbied the legislature to create the public utility authority.

“Then there was a battle over who was going to run this place and in my mind there was only one guy qualified to do it and that was Ray,” he said. “He ended up with that job to the betterment of Clay County.”

Avery tried to share the credit for the utility’s success during his nearly 19-year run as its executive.

“It’s been a team effort all the way: the staff and with my board,” said Avery.  “We have brought projects to the board that we thought were good for Clay County and 99 times out of 100 the board has believed in those projects and has allowed us to go forward with them. We have just tried to execute what they have allowed us to do.  We appreciate the support of the board.  We appreciate the support of the staff over the years.  It’s been a real pleasure.”

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