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$11.4 million spent on Glades but no water yet
Hall County reservoir project inches ahead as expenses mount
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Glades Reservoir timeline

Early 2000s: Hall County completed studies and environmental documentation to assess water supply alternatives.

2005: The county commissioned engineering firm CH2MHill to prepare environmental assessment identifying a reservoir at Glades Farm as the preferred water supply alternative.

February 2007: The Glades Reservoir permit application was filed, proposing an 850-acre water supply reservoir with a yield of 6.4 million gallons per day as part of a public-private partnership with Glades property owners. That process was delayed to address issues with funneling water from Lake Lanier.

July 8, 2009: The Army Corps of Engineers issued a Joint Public Notice beginning the process for the public comment period.

July 17, 2009: U.S. District Judge Paul Magneson issued a ruling that stated Lake Lanier was an authorized water supply source.

Sept. 17, 2009: The corps withdrew the permit application at the request of the county. Hall County began planning the project on a larger scale as a regional water supply source and bought out Glades' owners previous expenses for the project for $4 million.

Dec. 20, 2010: Georgia's Environmental Protection Division certified the need for the project as a regional water source.

July 10, 2011: Hall County submitted an "amended application" to the corps for a permit to build the reservoir capable of pumping 72.5 million gallons of water per day.

July 8, 2011: The corps informed the county it needed an environmental impact statement to get a permit.

December 2011: Hall County and the corps agreed to have AECOM perform the statement, which would cost the county no more than $1.531 million.

Source: Hall County Government


Ask any member on the Hall County Board of Commissioners about the costs of the Glades Reservoir project and expect a different kind of answer from each.

Ask Chairman Tom Oliver and you'll get a question.

"People have asked me if we're paying too much," Oliver said last week. "My answer is: What's the value of sunshine, fresh air and clean water? If you can tell me the value of those, then I can tell you if we paid too much for the Glades project."

Try Commissioner Ashley Bell and you'll get something less open-ended.

"I agree with Glades, in theory, as a project," Bell said. "I think it's a vital resource for economic vitality for 50 years. But I've had some strong disagreements with the means to get to that end."

So far, Hall County leaders have spent $11.4 million on the project for fees associated with purchasing the land, planning the reservoir, buying a private partner out of the project and attempting to obtain permits for construction. That's according to an estimate given to The Times by county officials.

Those fees, dating back to the 1990s, were funded by special purpose local option sales taxes.

Officials expect it may take another 18 months and $2 million more in funding before the Army Corps of Engineers could grant the permits.

The current price tag — which doesn't include construction of the reservoir — may seem steep to some considering the county still hasn't earned the permit from the corps.

To be sure, Hall County and Georgia leaders are pushing for an investment in more water resources to guarantee future Georgians have adequate supply. Recent drought coupled with uncertainty about local control of Lake Lanier have only deepened support for projects such as Glades.

Gov. Nathan Deal has promised to spend $300 million throughout his term to guarantee Georgia's water supply and support future economic growth.

Glades Reservoir, if completed, is projected to provide 72.5 million gallons of water per day to Northeast Georgia residents and give the state and county more control of its water supply.

But for now, county officials acknowledge there's little physical evidence of their investment in engineering research and strategies for permitting.

"Whenever a project like this is undertaken, obviously you have to spend a great deal of capital and resources on the front end," Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said. "It's hard to try to contextualize the benefits that will be reaped from this 15 or 20 years later, when we're spending money now."

Now, it's just a load of ideas and paperwork.

"I've got two shelves full of documents of just Glades (research)," said County Public Works Director Ken Rearden.

Doug Baughman, the senior scientist and water resources practice expert from CH2M Hill, said the process for obtaining a permit for a reservoir on the scale of Glades is laborious and can take 10 to 15 years "from start to finish."

According to the county's timeline for the Glades project, planning began in earnest in the early 2000s.

Baughman notes the Cedar Creek Reservoir project, which provides one-tenth of the projected output of Glades, was "record fast" at about eight years.

That project, he said, was "totally uncomplicated and noncontroversial."

With Glades, however, Baughman said there have been complications to slow it down, including the 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson that water supply was not a sanctioned use for Lake Lanier.

That ruling came just days after the Corps of Engineers had announced it was ready to hear public comment on the earlier proposal for Glades. Because of the ruling, county officials decided to alter and expand their plans.

"All of those things added years to the process, which the county had no control over," Baughman said.

While Bell doesn't necessarily dispute those obstacles, he does question the job of the consultants in foreseeing them and the wisdom of the county keeping them without looking for alternatives.

Bell has criticized the process of extending contracts with consultants without seeking competitive bids from others, which he said has led to "exorbitant costs."

"I'm for more competition here," Bell said. "I'd rather not hire anyone again without going through a bidding process."

Last week, Bell and other commissioners agreed to renew contracts with consultants from Joe Tanner and Associates for a lower monthly fee without bidding. Attorney Tommy Craig, who has received about $1 million from the county in permitting consulting fees, will not continue work with the county after he declined to offer a proposal to be part of the next phase of the process, according to Knighton.

If you ask Commissioner Scott Gibbs his thoughts on what's been spent on consulting fees, he'll admit it's steep. He also said the process has been frustratingly slow.

Still, he said, "We are too committed at this point to back out."

Once again, Hall County appears to be nearing a finish line.

In December, commissioners approved a contract to pay AECOM, an engineering, design and program management company, as much as $1.53 million to prepare an environmental impact statement that will help federal permitting officials determine whether to approve the construction of the proposed reservoir.

If all goes according to plan, the county could have its permit by 2013.

And then comes the job of hiring contractors to build it.

The price tag for that portion of the project is a moving target, said Rearden.

One estimate has costs exceeding $300 million.