A statewide water advocacy group has identified two Hall County waterways in its 2012 “Dirty Dozen” report: Flat and Allen creeks.
The Georgia Water Coalition, which released the report Wednesday morning, slammed both for water quality reasons but also tied them politically to Gov. Nathan Deal, who is from Hall County.
The report targets Flat Creek as it relates to the proposed Glades Reservoir, which the group describes as a “boondoggle reservoir project (that) threatens Lake Lanier, Chattahoochee River and downstream communities.”
“While local support for the project has waned recently, Gov. Deal has indicated that he might come to the rescue with state funds to prop up the floundering project,” the report states.
The coalition also criticized the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ approval last week of a rezoning to allow for the expansion of a private landfill off U.S. 129/Athens Highway and Monroe Drive.
“Promoted by politically-powerful individuals with ties to Gov. Nathan Deal, expansion of the Gainesville Waste and Recycling landfill poses a serious threat to Allen Creek and the Oconee River and to the health of families in Newtown,” according to the report.
Newtown is a historically black area of southside Gainesville.
The coalition is a consortium of 175 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses and faith-based organizations formed in 2002.
“This list not only highlights some of the most egregious water pollution problems in our state, but also calls attention to state policies that harm our rivers and waste our tax dollars,” said April Ingle, executive director at Georgia River Network.
“The sites on this list are examples of Georgia’s failures to protect our water, our fish and wildlife and our communities.”
A press release introducing the report is especially critical of Deal.
“The Deal administration’s appointments and actions suggest that enforcing environmental laws are not a priority,” said Joe Cook, executive director and riverkeeper with the Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative.
“Track the money divvied out in Gov. Deal’s new water supply program and you get further clarity about this administration’s priorities and allegiances.”
An email from Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, says in response to the report that the “Deal administration has sought a balanced approach as we continue to face tough choices in the budget, even in high-priority areas.
“Georgia has accomplished much on conservation in recent years and Gov. Deal’s water supply plans will prepare our state for its population growth needs through 2050. A steady and reliable water supply is crucial to Georgia families and Georgia business, and Gov. Deal is working hard on that.”
The coalition said it believes the “most glaring example” of Georgia’s “misguided strategy to circumvent federal control over the Chattahoochee by damming its tributaries” is the $95 million Glades project, which is in the permitting stage with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Plans call for damming up a portion of Flat Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River, to store enough water to provide the county with about 70 million gallons of water a day.
“This project would divert and impound water that would otherwise fill Lake Lanier, interfering with federal management of the lake and complicating efforts to reach a water-sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida,” the report states.
In an Oct. 15 interview with The Times, Deal said he believes a state partnership with Hall County on Glades Reservoir is something “that needs to be explored.”
“Obviously, we need to have the support for the state to enter into an agreement of that kind,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s important for people other than just those who live in Hall County to understand the significance of this project. It is regional, but in many respects it is statewide.”
As for Allen Creek, residents live near the proposed expansion “of a landfill that processes food waste, biosolids and sewage sludge,” the report says.
The commission’s approval came with conditions, including that no composting operation can be started.
“From what we’ve heard (regarding) concerns of the neighborhood with the smells, that (condition) should take that (problem) away,” said Brian Rochester of Rochester & Associates, which applied for the rezoning on behalf of Gainesville-based DOJI Properties.
The coalition believes that, based on history of the site, that composting could become a future use.
“We’ve already seen an example with the existing Gainesville Waste and Recycling site that was permitted several years ago with a zoning for an ... inert landfill and down the slippery slope it went and became available for biosolids and food wastes,” said Sally Bethea, executive director for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
“We’re pretty troubled by what’s been going on at the county commission level over the number of years,” she added. “Hopefully, there’ll be a change.”