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Citizens and groups voice concerns over reservoir plan
Worries range from endangered species in the rivers to cutting down trees
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Dawson County Commissioner Gary Pichon says he's heard every concern discussed Thursday night during a public hearing on a proposed reservoir in the county.

"I didn't hear any issues I haven't already heard before," he said. "I wish the community as a whole would understand that we do not own that property, the state does not own that property in the Dawson tract and the county does not own that property."

Owned by the city of Atlanta, the 10,000-acre Dawson Forest Wildlife Management tract was originally purchased as a second airport site.

"The city of Atlanta is free under the law of Georgia to sell that to whomever they wish right now and that land could be developed into anything," said Pichon, who is a proponent for the reservoir if the remaining property is preserved for what he calls a grand park.

"I want to preserve as much as I can in greenspace for the use of the people of the state of Georgia and if the reservoir is the means to do that, then I'm for the reservoir."

Earlier this month, the board heard presentations from Etowah Water and Sewer Authority and Republic Resources, two entities competing to build the proposed reservoir.

Both reservoir concepts would feed off Shoal Creek and the Etowah and Amicalola rivers and call for the remaining 8,000 acres to be preserved.

Commissioners heard from several residents concerned about the proposal during both public hearings and on Thursday also heard from numerous environmental groups opposed to a reservoir in Dawson Forest.

Concerns range from endangered species in the rivers to cutting down trees and interbasin transfers that would limit the amount of water to downstream communities.

Will Wingate of the Georgia Conservancy called the proposed reservoir "a statewide issue" and presented the board with 700 signatures opposing the effort.

"This is too important a tract not to be preserved as it is," he said, adding the group would be interested in partnering with the county to create a special local option sales tax to help preserve the land.

Pichon said his plan to preserve the space does not include using taxpayer dollars.

"Some of the things you think about is if we had park, who is going to pay for the park on a day to day basis?

And I don't want the county citizens to do that," he said. "I want a separate entity to hold that property and figure out how to manage it and be self-sustaining so that we don't use taxpayer money within the boundaries of the park."

Pichon said he hopes the commission will make a public statement either in favor or against the park and reservoir in the near future. "...so that all the players that are out there can know what our preferences are," he said.

The commission got involved in the discussions after legislation was passed that gives officials a say in building reservoirs in their counties.

Commission Chair Mike Berg said while general conversations about the 10,000 acres have been going on for several years, no one should expect any action to take place anytime soon.

"According to the Mayor of Atlanta last week, it's going to be a while before anything transpires here," Berg said. "Actually, he asked us why we were having a hearing on his property, and I explained to him that while it was his property, it's in our county."

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