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Second reservoir in Hall gets OK

Georgia lawmakers, corps help push plan to fast-track Glade Farm project

POSTED: March 1, 2009 12:17 a.m.

This entire tract of land in Northeast Hall County will be flooded when the new Glade Farm reservoir is built on the Chattahoochee River.

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WASHINGTON — A proposed 805-acre reservoir in North Hall County has cleared a major hurdle following a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill this week.

The hourlong meeting Tuesday occurred in the office of U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who along with fellow Georgia Republicans Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, convinced corps officials, led by Undersecretary of the Army John Paul Woodley, to allow Hall County to proceed with a permit application for the Glade Farm reservoir under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

"It’s a big milestone," said Chambliss, in an interview with The Times in Washington. "We’ve been working on this thing, literally, for years. The folks in Gainesville have done their homework and have put together a team of experts that made a very professional presentation on this."

Among those at Tuesday’s meeting was Harold Reheis, former director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, now a consultant for the project. Also present was Tommy Craig, an environmental lawyer from Covington. Craig was the attorney who represented Cherokee County in its battle over the Hickory Log Creek reservoir on the Etowah River.

They were joined by Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Carl Nichols, who represents the Austrian family that owns the surrounding land.

"To get somebody in Washington to move is very difficult," said Oliver. "We had two senators, a congressman and top officials from the corps of engineers and were able to work to some resolution.

Hall County purchased 805 acres of the 7,000-acre Glade Woodland Farms property in Northeast Hall seven years ago with the intention of building a reservoir there.

The original design called for using Lake Lanier as a conduit to transport the water to Gainesville’s water intakes. That proposal has been met with some skepticism by the federal government because it has never been tried before.

The arrangement for the reservoir is an unusual public-private partnership. The county owns the 805 acres on which the reservoir will be built with some contributions by the surrounding land owners, who have previously offered to operate the reservoir until it is transferred to county maintenance at a later date.

Meanwhile, Oliver is hopeful that the project may fit into the economic stimulus plan and could qualify for federal funding.

The operational transfer of the Glade Farm reservoir to the county could take place as soon as 2020, when water would be made available for municipal use.

Woodley, who is in charge of public works projects, has remained in office at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates until his successor is named by the White House.

As he left the meeting, Woodley said he knew that any project surrounding Lake Lanier would be controversial, but he and his staff agreed with the request to move ahead with the project.

"There is a lot resting on the continued vitality of Lake Lanier," Woodley told The Times. "It really is the key to the prosperity of North Georgia and therefore the entire Southeastern region of the country. You can’t be too careful when it comes to Lake Lanier."

Deal said the corps agreed to expedite the permitting process, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

An unresolved issue is how the water will get from the reservoir to a water treatment plant.

"Ultimately, you could wind up with a situation where you build the reservoir, get it full, but they are still leaving the issue of whether they will allow that water to be transported down Lake Lanier to the Gainesville water intake," Deal said.

The congressman said the corps has never seen this method used and it would set a precedent.

"They’re being extremely cautious," he said. "But as far as construction of the reservoir, it’s now in a go-forward mode, subject to meeting the criteria you would have to meet on a 404 permit."

Responsibility for administering and enforcing Section 404 is shared by the corps and the Environmental Protection Agency. The corps administers the day-to-day program, including individual permit decisions and jurisdictional determinations; develops policy and guidance; and enforces legal provisions. EPA develops and interprets environmental criteria used in evaluating permit applications.

Aides on Capitol Hill said the presence of all three lawmakers for the entire meeting was key in convincing the corps to give the project a go-ahead.

The site is surrounded by the property of the Goess-Saurau family of Austria. The tract is the largest contiguous tract of undeveloped land in Hall County.

The heavily wooded tract is largely covered in pine trees, but the reservoir site is centered in a clearing near Glade Farm Road, a major portion of which would be submerged by the reservoir and would have to be rerouted over the dam.

The hilly terrain extending from the cleared area would create channels or fingers extending outward from the main body of the lake.

The reservoir would be fed by Flat Creek, via Glade Shoals, a cascading rocky spillway that was once a popular summertime spot about 40 years ago and the site of numerous accidents, some of them fatal.


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