GAINESVILLE - The Hall County Commission and its audience at Tuesday's public hearing on the Glades Farm Reservoir project at the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville heard that the 'time is ripe' to move forward on getting the permit for the giant North Hall reservoir, and Chairman Tom Oliver could not agree more.
During the hour long hearing the permitting team led by attorney Tommy Craig detailed the work and planning so far on getting that Corps of Engineers permit; Craig said now is the time. Oliver said total project cost and possible future water rates should not be the concern now. The concern should be making sure Hall County gets the permit.
"We have a window here in which we can get a 404 permit and that allows us to build this reservoir for the next ten years," Oliver said. "We're going to spend several million dollars, the consultant's fee is $1.5-million, that's what we've budgeted so far. The details on how big the dam is going to be and how much it's going to cost will be worked out later, but if you don't have the permit nothing else matters."
Craig estimated if all goes well Hall could get the permit by early 2012, the year federal Judge Paul Magnuson's ruling to cut Lake Lanier off as a water supply would take effect. At completion the dam and reservoir could cost $345-million for a facility that would be 123 feet high, 980 feet wide and be able to provide 80 million gallons of water per day.
There were questions about project cost, how much it would wind up costing water customers, what impact the reservoir would have on Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, and who might stop the project. The possibility that Dawson County could eventually build a reservoir also came up and how that would affect the demand for the reservoir at Glades Farm.
Hall County's lead consulting firm on Glades is Joe Tanner and Associates, headed by former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Tanner.
Tanner said his firm was asked to look into the feasibility of building the Dawson reservoir. He said the reservoirs would complement each other in meeting regional water demands, but added Dawson's reservoir is a long way off if it happens at all.
"All this is very exploratory to try to find out on behalf of the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority what is the city's intention on the Dawson Forest site," Tanner said. "That's all we were engaged to try to find out, we're not trying to permit the project or anything like that."
Tanner said there's no effort at all to try to permit that site and Glades is five to six years ahead of the Dawson site.
General Council for the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper Julia Cohen from Atlanta, said her environmental advocacy group was concerned about the 'unknowns'of the reservoir's effect on the river and she said the county needs to use the resources it has at hand.
"Could the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier sustain a two pump storage scenario," Cohen asked. "The county and the city have Cedar Creek with a yield capacity of 12 million gallons. It's sitting and ready to be used."
Cohen added that if all the effort and proposed spending for Glades was directed at getting at Lake Lanier re-authorized as a water source for metro Atlanta it would be a 'huge favor' to the people of Atlanta and the region.
According to a business plan summary issued at the hearing by Hall officials, if Judge Magnuson's ruling takes effect, a new Cedar Creek Reservoir water plant would be built by the City of Gainesville, which leases the reservoir. It would go on line by July 2012 to meet the short term gap, with Glades meeting long term water needs. The summary also states that water customers would pay a supplemental $5 a month starting in 2011 and continue to pay it through the period of the debt under water utility revenue bonds.
Oliver said things are not worked out with Gainesville yet over who has control of Cedar Creek, but they will be.
"We've still got details to be worked out but once that project is needed we're going to be a team moving forward, we're just jockeying for position on who pays for what," Oliver said.
Oliver said regardless of whether the tri-state water war is resolved or if Congress reauthorizes Lake Lanier for water consumption use, Glades Reservoir would be needed anyway to meet projected 50 year needs for a growing regional population.