It appears Gainesville and Hall County can agree on one thing when it comes to the Cedar Creek Reservoir: the mediation process should be open to the public.
On Feb. 2, Hall County and the city of Gainesville will work with a professional mediator to resolve their differences over rights to water in the reservoir.
On Thursday, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of making the process open to all commissioners and council members as well as the public.
Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said the city would likely be in favor of an open mediation process as well.
“I don’t see a problem with it. If that’s what they want to do, we’ll do it,” Dunagan said. “It’s not an issue.”
Originally, the plan was to have two representatives from each party come to the table with the mediator.
The meeting would not have to be open to the public — open meeting laws only apply when there are three or more elected officials from a single board involved.
Hall County Administrator Charley Nix said the issue is too important to leave any elected officials out.
“We want to allow any commissioners who wants to participate,” Nix said. “At this stage we should be candid. There is nothing we should be hiding, and I think it’d be good for the public to participate.”
In September, the city and the county agreed to nonbinding mediation at the request of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Allen Barnes.
Barnes has indicated he will not release the needs assessment letter the county needs to move forward with permitting of the planned Glades Reservoir until Gainesville and Hall County can reach an agreement on Cedar Creek.
The two governments have been at odds for months over which entity has control of the water and the financial details of its inclusion in a larger system with the proposed Glades Reservoir.
Rather than build a separate water treatment plant at Glades, the county plans to pump the water from the Glades Reservoir into Cedar Creek Reservoir, where Gainesville will have a treatment plant and distribution lines. The city is the drinking water distributor for most Hall County residents.
The Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority has authorized $20,000 for the mediation, Dunagan said.
The two governments will focus on the immediate need of resolving their differences over Cedar Creek; the Glades Reservoir likely will not be part of the discussion.
“We’re resolving the withdrawal permit,” Dunagan said. “Short term is what we’re concerned about. If (U.S. District Court Judge Paul) Magnuson’s ruling holds up, we’re the water purveyor for unincorporated Hall County and the city of Gainesville and we’ve got to provide water.”
In July 2009, Magnuson ruled water supply was not an authorized use of Lake Lanier. The ruling gave Georgia three years to get congressional approval to continue withdrawing drinking water from the lake.
If Congress does not act by 2012, only the cities of Gainesville and Buford would be allowed to continue to use Lake Lanier for drinking water, and at mid-1970s levels.
The ruling would reduce the amount of water Gainesville can withdraw to 8 million gallons per day. Currently, Gainesville and Hall County withdraw about 20 million gallons per day from Lake Lanier.