Nine people lined up to support the construction of the Glades Reservoir at a public comment session Thursday night, but it was only the court reporter who heard what they had to say.
About 100 people gathered in an auditorium Thursday at the Georgia Mountains Center for what was supposed to be a meeting reserved for public comment on the proposed North Hall reservoir.
However, minutes after Tommy Craig, the agent helping Hall County permit the reservoir, finished a presentation on its proposed construction, the meeting was essentially adjourned and people began to leave.
Those who had come with prepared speeches — or at least prepared to listen to others’ — were shocked.
"That was public comment?" real estate executive Frank Norton Jr. asked Butch Miller, a Gainesville businessman and candidate for Georgia’s 49th District Senate seat.
But government officials and business leaders representing Gainesville and Hall County’s environmental and economic interests made sure their comments were recorded for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hear. Nine of them lined up to submit statements in support of Glades Reservoir.
The corps is responsible for permitting the proposed 850-acre reservoir. Thursday’s public comment session was a requirement of the reservoir’s federal permitting process.
Local officials hope that within seven years the reservoir could provide approximately 6.4 million gallons of water to Hall County residents each day. That quantity could become essential to meeting the county’s water needs in light of last month’s ruling that severely limited the county’s ability to rely on Lake Lanier as its main water source.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson’s July 17 ruling could force Gainesville and Hall County to cut back its Lake Lanier water withdrawals from 18.5 million to 8 million gallons per day within three years. Local officials say the ruling highlights the need for another reservoir in the county, and the ruling caused the corps to extend the standard 30-day public comment period on the reservoir to 60 days.
Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras issued what she called a short statement in support of the reservoir. So did Lula Mayor Milton Turner; state Sen. Lee Hawkins, a candidate for the 9th District congressional seat; and Gainesville’s Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall.
Val Perry, the executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association, also spoke in favor of the reservoir. Perry gave the court reporter recording the comments a prepared statement on behalf of the lake advocacy group.
"The essence is that Lake Lanier Association supports this program, congratulates the people that have been working on it and hopefully they will set a precedent for moving ahead in the state of Georgia as we try and handle the problems we’ve experienced with Judge Magnuson and the tri-state water wars," Perry said.
Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the chairwoman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, said the reservoir would be integral to meeting the county’s current and future water needs.
"It’s clearly evident under our study that Hall County will need additional water by 2050," Dunlap said. "...I think this is very smart planning on behalf of Hall County."
Philip Wilheit, chairman of the Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority, said the reservoir is connected to economic development in Hall County.
"Gainesville-Hall County is also an economic generator for the entire Northeast Georgia," Wilheit said. "It’s the financial, health care center and business center. And if our economy is damaged in Gainesville-Hall County, it will have the same effect on all of Northeast Georgia, and that’s not anything that we want to have happen to us."
The public still can submit comments in writing before Sept. 6 to: Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Piedmont Branch, Attn: Mr. Justin Hammonds, 1590 Adamson Parkway, Suite 200 Morrow, GA, 30260-1777. Refer to the project name as Glades Reservoir, USACE Project Number 200700388.