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County hopes to talk through water issues
Gainesville moving forward on reservoir plans, but county holds permit needed to withdraw the water
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Hall officials plan to sit down with the city of Gainesville next week in hopes of finding a solution to the area’s water issues.

The two government entities have been at odds for months over how to proceed with the existing Cedar Creek Reservoir and the future Glades Reservoir.

“(Gainesville City Manager) Kip (Padgett) and I are trying to set up a meeting this week with a couple of their council and a couple of our commissioners,” Hall County Administrator Charley Nix said. “And we’re going to see if we can make another run at talking through these issues.”

On Thursday, the Gainesville City Council directed Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall to seek out engineers to design a water treatment plant at Cedar Creek, with or without the county’s input. The treatment plant would make the reservoir a viable backup supply to Lake Lanier.

Hall officials don’t take issue with the city’s decision to begin designing the plant. They are more concerned about what comes next.

“I think it’s a fine idea; they ought to get started,” Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said. “But they’re not going to be able to do anything with the design unless they talk to us.”

Gainesville owns the reservoir, but Hall County holds the permit needed to withdraw the water.

County officials have said they aren’t willing to hand over the permit unless the city is willing to give the county ownership of the reservoir — something city officials have said they aren’t willing to give.

County officials have said they need the reservoir, which they built with sales tax revenues, so they can sell the water in it to help pay for the construction of the planned Glades Reservoir. City officials were deeded the reservoir in a 2006 agreement along with the rest of the old Hall County water system.

Since September, neither side has been willing to compromise.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Sutton said. “It’s a very big project.”

Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said the water issue is one for the entire community.

“I think for everybody to be involved is very important,” Oliver said. “For somebody to say they want to take the project forward without the consensus of the community is somewhat short-sighted.”

Nix said plans must be made with a long-term vision in mind.

“I think a year from now, while the world may look differently, I think we need to be looking at 10 years from now, 15 years from now, 20 years from now and even 60 years from now,” Nix said in response to a comment from Randall on Thursday. “That’s been my issue with this. The long-term vision has to be there as well.”

Randall commented that the world make look different in a year due to a July 2009 ruling in a legal battle over rights to Lake Lanier. State officials have appealed the ruling, but if it is upheld, it could cut the county’s ability to withdraw water from Lake Lanier by more than half in July 2012.

Nix said he hopes the county and city will be able to balance their needs and visions for the future of the area’s water supply.

“They seem to have a good grasp on the short-term needs based on what I’ve heard, but I also think we have a good grasp on the long-term water needs of the county. I just think we need to marry our two ideas together.”

Nix said even if the two governments are not able to come to a solution next week, they will make important progress by sitting down together and talking.

“The important thing in all of this is how to finance all of it and who controls what. I think that’s really the issue we’re dealing with at this point,” Nix said. “I’m confident we can come to an agreement.”

Staff writer Ashley Fielding contributed to this report

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