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Demorest water dripping into dry northeast Hall
Homeowners request service from Habersham utility

A handful of northeast Hall County residents past the reach of the city of Gainesville’s water lines are hoping a nearby Habersham County city can meet their water needs.

The Demorest City Council on Tuesday discussed extending city water lines into Hall County to provide service to homes along Pea Ridge Road.

A half-dozen homes and a Baptist church on Pea Ridge rely on wells and have been left with little to no water in the worst days of Georgia’s droughts.

“Just imagine you’re washing clothes and your water quits, so you’ve got half-washed clothes,” said Pea Ridge Road homeowner Lela Whelchel. “You’re trying to get ready to go somewhere so you’re taking a shower; you’ve got your hair shampooed but then the water goes off. So you’re stuck.”

Whelchel owns a home and a rental home on Pea Ridge. Both are on wells, and the rental home was having the worst issues during the 2016 drought, when she approached Hall County and then Gainesville about getting water service in far northeast Hall.

Gainesville has water lines on Belton Bridge Road, about three miles away from the homes on Pea Ridge Road and Pleasant Hill Baptist Church — too far to extend for the small number of customers.

Meanwhile, Demorest water lines are less than a mile away.

Demorest Mayor Rick Austin said the city had preliminary discussions with officials across the Hall County line and that Demorest had been given unofficial approval to move ahead with plans to extend water service down Pea Ridge Road and into Hall County.

At the Tuesday meeting, Austin referred to discussions with Hall County in the fall of 2016, but Hall County doesn’t provide water service, a duty left to the city of Gainesville’s water resources department.

Demorest, similar to Gainesville’s water resources department, serves almost all of Habersham County and has more than 6,000 customers.

“It makes common sense for Demorest to serve them because they can do it the quickest, the cheapest, the easiest,” said Linda MacGregor, director of Gainesville’s Department of Water Resources. “There has been some conversation between the city of Demorest and the city of Gainesville” about Pea Ridge Road.

MacGregor said Demorest has permission to extend its water lines into the Gainesville service area.

“It’s OK with us if Demorest serves these people who have a need because they’re close,” she said. “There’s always some discussion between jurisdictions about how to serve people in the best way. This makes sense.”

Austin told the Times on Thursday that the Demorest City Council is scheduled to vote July 6 on whether to extend the lines. Extending the lines to the homes is expected to cost approximately $34,000.

“It’ll be costly for us to put the pipe in the ground on the front side, but we know we’ll have a customer for the duration after that,” Austin said. “It’s about meeting people’s needs, and when you’ve got legitimate need and you have the resources to be able to meet those needs and improve someone’s life, that carries a lot of weight with me.”

Demorest city water could come this year to Pea Ridge Road. Demorest Public Works Director Bryan Popham said the work could begin in August depending on what the city council decides in July.

It’s not just about tap water — the cost of home insurance is driven up along the road because it has no fire hydrants and the nearest station is about 7 miles away, Whelchel said.

“We don’t get those nicer rates on insurance, not that any of them are really great,” she said.

Sweet Acre Farms Winery on Bill Wilson Road in Alto — only a short distance from Belton Bridge and Pea Ridge roads — is feeling the same pinch. The winery had to negotiate with Hall County planners and the Board of Commissioners to start its business because the area has no water utility and no hydrants.

Winery co-owner Matthew Vrahiotes said he had to install a 6,000-gallon tank attached to a hydrant in order to open his business, but if he wants to expand his operation or add another location in Alto, he’ll need to expand his reservoir or install another tank.

“Business would grow, I’ll tell you that much,” Vrahiotes said. “... Having city water down the road would be great.”

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