Officials from Gainesville and Hall County are ready to start discussing plans for Cedar Creek Reservoir after months of stalemate.
Gainesville City Council sent a letter Tuesday to Greater Hall Chamber President Kit Dunlap, declining an offer from the chamber to have an independent facilitator help push water talks along between the city and the county.
“We think that’s premature,” Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner said.
Instead, Council members say they first want to have a meeting with Hall commissioners to seek a resolution on the future of the East Hall reservoir.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Bruner directed city staff to set up a meeting with the commission. Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett and Hall County Administrator Charley Nix already expected to meet this week to discuss the issue.
“I know one thing we need is a funding mechanism or a business plan as to how they would fund what they want to do with Glades Farm,” Bruner said. “... As soon as they’re ready with some funding mechanism, set up a meeting.”
Bruner said that meeting would be open to the public when scheduled. If the discussions are unsuccessful, City Council then would consider an independent facilitator, she said.
For nearly eight months, the city and the county have been at odds over the future of Cedar Creek, putting plans to make the reservoir capable of water withdrawals on hold.
The reservoir is Hall County residents’ most available backup supply if water withdrawals from Lake Lanier are limited by last year’s federal ruling.
In July 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that metro Atlanta’s water withdrawal was not an approved use for Lake Lanier. Magnuson’s ruling allows Gainesville to continue to use Lake Lanier as a source of drinking water, but at mid-1950’s levels.
State officials have appealed the ruling; if it is upheld, it could cut the city’s ability to withdraw water from Lake Lanier by more than half in 2012.
Yet Cedar Creek’s water won’t be available by then because of the months of disagreement between the city and the county over its ownership.
A 2006 agreement between the city and the county deeded ownership of the reservoir to Gainesville along with the rest of the Hall County water system and the debt associated with it.
The agreement did not mention the permit needed to withdraw water from the reservoir; Hall County still holds that permit.
Hall County officials have said they aren’t willing to hand over the permit unless the city is willing to give them ownership of the reservoir, something city officials aren’t willing to provide.
Hall officials have said they need the reservoir, built with county sales tax revenues, so they can sell water to other governments and help pay for the construction of the planned Glades Reservoir in Northeast Hall as part of a system linked to Cedar Creek.
The city has asked the county to stick to its four-year-old deal. County officials say that in light of last year’s court ruling, the 2006 agreement is no longer workable.
“That ’06 agreement just simply does not include the Magnuson ruling,” Nix said Tuesday. “That ’06 ruling just does not fit at all today.”
County officials have also expressed a desire to come to an agreement this week.
“If we could join hands, we would go a long way,” Nix said.
Staff writer Melissa Weinman contributed to this reporter.