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New director takes charge of Hall County sewer project

POSTED: April 25, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Demetrius Freeman/The Times

Ken Rearden, director of Hall County Public Works and Utilities, explains his new plans for the county's sewer and public utilities projects at the Spout Springs treatment plant on Monday morning.

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Sewer is a dirty business, but a lucrative one.

Now that Hall County is armed with new Public Works and Utilities Director Ken Rearden and his 35 years of experience in wastewater utilities, the county is ready to explore the possibility of creating its own public utilities department.

"We want Ken’s focus to be on public utilities, he’s really going to be an asset to the commission," said Steve Gailey, Hall County Commissioner.

Gailey said the development of county sewer projects will pave the way for a higher quality of life in Hall County, inviting more commercial, residential and entertainment opportunities to the area — and more revenue.

In December, the county bought the Spout Springs sewer facility in Flowery Branch from a private company for nearly $14 million. And in mid-March, Rearden left his position as assistant director of utilities in West Palm Beach, Fla., to assist Hall County in sorting out its sewer mess.

Rearden said the Spout Springs plant’s 750,000-gallon sewer capacity pales in comparison to the 25 million gallons of sewer permitted for the city of Gainesville’s utilities department, but it’s a start.

"Sewer is a big commodity," Rearden said. "We just bought our first sewer plant, and we’re in the infancy stage."

According to Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville Public Utilities, the city generated more than $57 million in fiscal year 2007 and serves nearly 9,000 customers.

Rearden said the development of a county utilities division will come at the discretion of county commissioners, but the county is already collecting revenue for its sewer service.

Although the county has an intergovernmental agreement with Gainesville that allows the city to maintain the Spout Springs treatment plant, Rearden said the county has hired Environmental Management Services Inc. to run the plant at a cost of less than $20,000 a month. Only 20 percent of the facility is currently being utilized.

The plant provides sewer service to subdivisions Sterling on the Lake, Reunion and The Village at Deaton Creek, Rearden said.

Currently, Rearden said the county receives revenue from its sewer service to Reunion and The Village at Deaton Creek, and is in the process of establishing an agreement with Flowery Branch to net revenue for county sewer service to the 2,100 homes in Sterling on the Lake.

He said that in addition to the Spout Springs facility, the county has purchased 400,000 gallons of capacity from the Flowery Branch wastewater treatment plant, 1 million gallons of capacity from Gainesville plants and 200,000 gallons of capacity from Oakwood through its sewer agreements with Braselton and Flowery Branch.

With a collective 2,350,000 gallons of sewer capacity, the county is doling out that capacity to various sewer projects across the county.

At the top of the county’s to-do list is the Mulberry Creek regional sewer project in South Hall.

The county is collaborating with Gainesville to construct sewer lines that could feed 1 million gallons of sewer to Gainesville plants or the county’s potentially expandable Spout Springs sewer plant.

The $31 million project is estimated to serve 4,000 residences or commercial buildings.

The Mulberry Creek sewer project will serve the area parallel to Interstate 985 south of Atlanta Highway and Poplar Springs Road and north of Braselton. Up to 3-foot-wide pipelines are currently being constructed in the region under 20 feet of soil, while crews are blasting rock off Winder Highway for a pump station.

Rearden said construction on the Mulberry Creek sewer project began in fall of last year and will be completed by July 2009. He added that the county will negotiate the terms of a shared revenue agreement with Gainesville pending completion of the project.

In addition to aiding Flowery Branch in the construction of sewer lines, the county is assisting Oakwood in building sewer lines along Winder Highway, Martin Road and near Oakwood City Hall.

The sewer lines funded by the county and Oakwood will serve new commercial development on Winder Highway as well as a possible new town center for Oakwood.

"We’re working jointly with these municipalities, especially Flowery Branch, to expand the economy of this county by expanding sewer capacity and the pump station system," Rearden said. "We will recoup our funding of these joint projects with municipalities by collecting tap fees and connection fees."

Rearden said tap fees will pay for the sewer lines and connection fees will pay for plant capacity.

With all these new sewer lines criss-crossing Hall County, Rearden said it’s crucial that the county implement a water reclamation program that recharges Lake Lanier with purified effluent. He said Gainesville already has a similar program in place.

Rearden said the Spout Springs sewer plant currently has a reclamation program that discharges purified effluent onto a 300-acre spray field rather than into the lake. But he said that’s not enough recharge during a drought.

In his experience with Lake Okeechobee near West Palm Beach, Fla., Rearden said he helped implement a reclamation program before Lake Okeechobee began drying up that distributed 10 million gallons of purified effluent into the lake every day.

He said it would cost the county about $3 million to purchase the resources necessary to start a reclamation program to return 1 million gallons of water a day to Lake Lanier.

"We’d have to spend some more money, but it’d help the citizens of the county by recharging the lake," Rearden said. "It’s just a drop in the bucket, but every drop counts."



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