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Sewer agreement may be breaking down between Lula, Hall

N. Hall city was to provide sewer treatment services for industrial park in Ga. 365 corridor

POSTED: July 22, 2013 8:28 p.m.

Lula Mayor Milton Turner said the agreement between the North Hall city and Hall County to provide sewer service to Ga. 365 is falling apart and could cost county taxpayers more than $10 million if they can’t work it out.

Turner said he spoke as a taxpayer, not as mayor, Monday afternoon at the Hall County Board of Commissioners work session. Commissioners approved partnering with the city of Lula in February to provide sewer treatment service to the 518-acre Gateway Industrial Centre under development and the Ga. 365 corridor, but the county would install about 5 miles of pipeline from a county-built pump station up Ga. 365 to Ga. 52.

Turner said Lula and the county started working late last year to revise a 2006 agreement that is the basis for its current deal, but negotiations broke down. Turner and board Chairman Richard Mecum worked out a compromise late last week, but other members of county government rejected it.

“(County officials) were working with us and they said if this thing works out, they might not want to be in the sewer business,” Turner said. “What I had been told (was), they would continue to bring the sewer to us. We’re just trying to figure out where we stand.”

Public Works Director Ken Rearden said Hall County officials insisted on rewriting the 2006 agreement. While Turner referred to a 24-month period of negotiation, Rearden said the county didn’t start on the 365 corridor and Gateway project until after the commission vote in February.

Rearden told The Times in April that the master plan for the Northeast Hall Sewer District is to use Lula’s wastewater treatment plant to supply the industrial park. The county would build the planned North Oconee Water Reclamation Facility, and put in a package wastewater treatment plant along U.S. 129. The county then would have the developer of the Glades Farm property build the plant and dedicate it to the county near the planned 850-acre Glades Reservoir.

Mecum said whether the county wants or doesn’t want to be in the sewer business isn’t the question. The question is does the county want an agreement with Lula on sewer, he said.

The answer, unclear and then seemingly certain, now appears again to be unclear.

The county had considered offers from the cities of Lula and Gainesville or a plan developing its own system in North Hall. Last year, it voted to build its own system, but reconsidered in hopes of attracting some economic development to the site if things moved faster. New Commissioners Jeff Stowe and Mecum have joined the board since that vote.

Turner said Lula has already spent money on engineering for the sewer project. Lula has sued Hall County once regarding the 2006 intergovernmental agreement. The county settled with the city in December for $750,000. More lawsuits could be on the way, Turner said.

The county agreed to provide sewer service to Gateway within 36 months of when the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network headquarters closed on its property there, which was in October.

That building, expected to be complete by 2015, will be the first development in the planned new industrial park in Hall. The property is expected to be developed over the next 10 to 12 years through a partnership between the county government and property owners.

Mecum and Turner both declined to disclose the details of Friday’s “gentleman’s agreement.” Mecum, however, said it was a trade-off; the city will do something if the county will do something. But the county can’t do that thing, the chairman said.

Despite the seeming impasse, Mecum said the two sides are “very close” to a decision.

“All I need is just one little thing to happen and we’ll have it,” Mecum said.

Turner said the commissioners should ask themselves some questions. The county’s sewer debt is more than $44 million, Turner said. The county would add about $15 million to $17 million to build its own plant, not $7 million, the mayor said.

Hall County needs sewer infrastructure and Lula needs customers, which the county will have soon because of its recent efforts to lure economic development to the area, Mecum said.


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