Hall County officials could be waiting as long as two years for a permit to build the proposed Glades Reservoir.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified county officials late last week that it plans to conduct a more in-depth study of the effect of the 850-acre reservoir on the surrounding environment before issuing the permit.
When they submitted their permit application last month, county officials had hoped to have the permit in hand in 12 months.
The study, called an Environmental Impact Study, invites more public comment on the reservoir proposal and could lengthen the permitting process for the reservoir by up to two years, according to Billy Birdwell, a spokesman for the corps’ permitting offices in Savannah.
Commissioners say Glades is the first Georgia reservoir to be subjected to such a study. They say they will spend the next several weeks deciding how to react to the corps’ decision.
In a letter sent to Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver on Friday, the corps called for the study, stating that an initial review of the county’s application proved that the reservoir could be mired in controversy because of its relationship to Lake Lanier.
The county has proposed building Glades on Flat Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River north of Lake Lanier.
Lanier is the main source of drinking water for Hall County and much of metro Atlanta. It has been at the center of water-rights litigation between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin for the last two decades.
Because the impact damming Flat Creek could have on Lake Lanier, the corps has called for the study, dubbed an Environmental Impact Study, before deciding whether Glades is an environmentally viable project.
The study will also involve an evaluation of the reservoir’s impact on the “human environment,” Birdwell said.
“We have determined that the proposed reservoir project will have significant impact on the human environment based on the level of controversy surrounding the project,” read a letter signed by Russell Kaiser, chief of the corps’ regulatory division in Savannah. “Specifically, significant controversy exists regarding the proposed reservoir and the potential adverse impacts on current/future operations of Lake Lanier.”
The corps’ letter charged the county with conducting a study that includes an analysis of how Glades could impact other proposed or “reasonably foreseeable reservoirs” within the river basin.
Corps officials have given the county the option of collaborating with other local officials planning reservoirs in the region.
The letter states the collaborative study could save the county money on Glades and would likely provide data that “may not be reasonably obtained by a single party (Environmental Impact Study).”
Ken Rearden, director of Public Works for Hall County, said the decision from the corps wasn’t unexpected, but it was a disappointment.
Commissioners were also disappointed. They said Monday consultants on the project are supposed to return to the board in three weeks with a list of options for the board’s next step.
“It’s just been kind of a shocker,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said Monday. “...I just think we need to sit back and look at all the options instead of making a rash decision.”
Commissioner Ashley Bell said one of those options might be to return to the county’s original plan for a much smaller reservoir that would yield 6 million gallons of water per day.
Bell said he has also asked Rearden to reconsider the county’s search for an engineer for the project.
The county is obligated to build a reservoir on the property as part of a zoning agreement with developers of the planned Glades Farm development, Bell said. The county would still be required to submit a separate application for the smaller reservoir.
“That would at least allow us to build the dam or start this project now,” Bell said.
But Chairman Tom Oliver said he wanted to pursue help from the governor’s office and congressional leaders before spending more money on a lengthy environmental study.
Oliver called the corps letter a “stall tactic.”
“I’m not willing to accept the fact that we’ve got to do this,” Oliver said. “I think there are other avenues that we need to pursue before we let a few people in Savannah shut down a whole project that could affect all of North Georgia.”