The leader of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce is calling for Gainesville and Hall County officials to settle their issues over the county’s future water supply with an independent facilitator.
And she’s offering to pay for it.
In a letter to Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner and Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver, Chamber President Kit Dunlap offered to hire an independent facilitator to resolve a monthslong dispute over control of water resources in Hall County.
“Water is truly the economic engine for business growth,” Dunlap wrote. “... Please let me know at your earliest convenience if you want us to move forward with solving our water issues.”
For months, the city and the county have been at a stalemate over the future of Cedar Creek Reservoir. The 141-acre lake off Timber Ridge Road in eastern Hall County is the county’s only immediate alternate water supply if a July 2009 federal ruling limiting Gainesville’s access to Lake Lanier’s water becomes reality.
The city and county have not been able to agree on the control of Cedar Creek. The facilities needed to withdraw, treat and transport the water from the backup supply likely won’t be built in time for the deadline set by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson to cut the city’s use of Lanier by more than half by July 2012.
Hall County built Cedar Creek reservoir in 2000 using special purpose sales tax revenues. A 2006 agreement handed ownership of the reservoir to Gainesville, along with the rest of the former Hall County water system.
However, the agreement did not mention — at least, specifically — the permit needed to withdraw water from the reservoir. The omitted word left Gainesville’s future treatment plant at Cedar Creek at the mercy of county officials who still have control of the reservoir’s withdrawals.
And months ago, the county notified city officials that it wants the reservoir back from the city to help pay for Glades Reservoir, a proposed water source they hope could provide as much as 100 million gallons per day.
On the other hand, Gainesville wants the county to keep its 4-year-old word and has refused to sign a new agreement that would return ownership of Cedar Creek to the county.
The stalemate between the two has kept Cedar Creek useless to residents and industries of Hall County. Because the city does not have the permit to withdraw water from the reservoir, it can’t build a water treatment plant there.
If the sides cannot reach an agreement, there are few options. Oliver said in March the commission would be willing to take the issue to binding arbitration.
Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan has also said the city could sue the county for the permit, but that is not likely.
The only other option the city has, outside of negotiation or litigation, is to wait until the county’s permit to withdraw water from Cedar Creek expires in summer 2012.
Officials from both sides hoped a recent meeting at the chamber would stimulate negotiations. After that meeting last week, however, officials from both sides said they were no closer to an agreement.
Thursday, both city and county officials presented their ideas for the future of the two reservoirs at a meeting of the chamber’s issues committee.
It was the first time the two governments officially discussed the issue. The media was not allowed to attend.
Dunlap’s letter was written the same day.