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Glades Reservoir: County holds off on seeking loans as project delays mount
Flat Creek flows through bottom land along Galde Farm Road where the proposed Glades Reservoir is to be located.
The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority awarded $26 million in loans this week for three reservoir projects, but the proposed Glades Reservoir in Hall County was not one of them.

While county officials have requested about $14.5 million in direct investment from the state — which does not require any payback — through the Governor’s Water Supply Program, they did not apply for a loan.

Officials said continued delays in the completion of an environmental impact statement and review for Glades made a loan unnecessary.

“Once we get that permit, then we’ll go ahead and follow through with the loans,” said Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum. “But, at this point in time, I don’t think we really need it.”

A decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on whether to issue a permit for the construction of Glades is now scheduled for December 2015.

But two of the reservoir projects receiving loans this week — Richland Creek in Paulding County and Indian Creek in Carroll County — have also received commitments of state direct investment.

“Last November, we announced plans to invest up to $44.9 million in four strategically located reservoir and water supply projects, one of which was Glades, using SDI funds, which are different from the loan funds,” said Shane Hix, GEFA director of public affairs. “... Richland Creek and Indian Creek also received an SDI commitment last November.”

Moreover, delays in the permitting process for Glades cannot explain why officials overseeing the Richland Creek Reservoir project decided to seek loans at this time.

“We have not issued any permits for these projects,” said Billy Birdwell, spokesman for the Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Multiple issues remain to be resolved in each situation before we can complete an evaluation.”

While a permit could be issued for Richland Creek before the end of the year, the nearly $100 million project has no guarantee of moving forward.

Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs said Glades, however, is a much more important project as growth in Hall County, neighboring counties and metro Atlanta is expected to outpace water supply.

“I think the state really has a vested interest in ours more than any other ...” Gibbs added. “If this one doesn’t succeed, there are not a lot of communities that are going to step out on the ledge. Everybody knows we need water.”

But as delays and costs mount — Hall County has already spent more than $15 million acquiring land and paying consultants, among other expenses — critics are sharpening their blades.

If permitted, design and construction of the reservoir is expected to take five years.

“As the Glades proposal drags on, from delay to new delay, local taxpayers should be concerned about how they will pay $130 million for a reservoir that they have never voted to approve,” said Sally Bethea, executive director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “Other communities are paying for similar projects with long-term, low-interest loans from the state, but taxpayers remain on the hook for cash in Hall County.”