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Hall County walks away from sewer partnership with Lula
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In a surprise move Thursday night, Hall County commissioners “fired” the city of Lula from partnering with the county to provide sewer capacity to the Gateway Industrial Centre.

The board of commissioners approved building its own sewer treatment plan to service the 518-acre industrial park under development and the Ga. 365 corridor. In the same motion, it approved suspending negotiations with the city.

Commissioner Billy Powell made the motion, saying the county had negotiated with Lula for about six months, but couldn’t come to terms on updating a 2006 agreement. The county insisted on updating the agreement, Ken Rearden, county Public Works and Utilities director, and Lula Mayor Milton Turner said. That agreement allowed the county to purchase sewer capacity at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The vote was 4-1, with board Chairman Richard Mecum voting against.

“This is a decision we’ve made carefully and thoughtfully and we feel it’s a wise investment that will benefit Hall County citizens in the near and distant future,” Powell said.

It’s also a decision they’ve made twice before in November and February. The commission voted in November to build its own North Hall treatment plant. The commission approved the proposal by a 4-1 vote last year, with Powell opposed.

“I don’t think we need another capital project that we then have to operate and maintain for years to come,” Powell said at the time.

New Commissioner Jeff Stowe and Mecum came onto the board in January, and the commission voted in February to reconsider its previous vote and go with Lula.

In the sort-of-split decision earlier this year, the commissioners approved using Lula’s treatment facility, but installing about 5 miles of pipeline from a county-built pump station up Ga. 365 to Ga. 52. They considered three options, including partnering with the city of Gainesville.

The vote of the commission in February was 4-1, with Powell voting against. He said he favored the Gainesville option because the city operates one of the best sewer systems in the state and it offered no upfront cost to county taxpayers.

Rearden said in statement handed out by county officials after Thursday’s meeting that construction of a new plant should be completed by April 2015. The county has promised to give sewer capacity to the Gateway industrial park within 36 months of the park’s first tenant, Georgia Poultry Lab, closing on its 10-acre site there in October 2012.

The new plant, which is estimated to cost about $8 million, will be able to treat about 500,000 gallons of sewage a day and serve an 8,000-acre area. The county plans to use special purpose local option sales taxes, sewer tap fees and other financing options.

“I think that, while I do appreciate what Lula has tried to do, where we are at today, is in my mind, not what we agreed to back in (February),” Commissioner Craig Lutz said. “And in fact goes quite a bit beyond what we went to back in (February).”

Rearden said the city’s final offer had several conditions that the county couldn’t live with, including issues with the Ga. 365 corridor sewer service area and changing the wording for the cost to the county of additional sewer capacity beyond 150,000 gallons a day from “actual” to “replacement” cost. Rearden also said he never got an exhibit, which was supposed to show additional fees.

Turner said in a phone interview Thursday night he was let down by the county’s decision, which he said he was unaware of beforehand. The motion was not listed on the agenda.

“Well, I didn’t know that was coming,” Turner said. “I’m too disappointed right now to make much of a comment.”

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