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Gainesville and Hall County officials have agreed to delay mediation over Cedar Creek Reservoir until a more definite idea surfaces about the fate of Lake Lanier as a source of drinking water.
The decision now sits in the hands of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, where three judges heard the case in early March.
"Mediation is not cheap, and there's no sense in doing it when we don't know what the outcome is," Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan said. "They may strike down the current ruling, and we may not need to do anything for awhile."
Georgia is asking the court to overturn a July 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson that gave the state three years to work out an agreement with neighbors Alabama and Florida over the decadeslong water wars or face not being able to withdraw water from the North Georgia reservoir.
Gainesville and Buford would still be able to make withdrawals but only at mid-1970s levels.
"From reports we heard after the presentation before the judges, it seemed like they may render a favorable decision, and then we would not require mediation," councilman Bob Hamrick said. "We thought we should wait and see what the true decision is, and that's why it's prudent to withhold until after that decision."
The two governments are struggling to agree on who has control of the water in Cedar Creek and the details of how it will fit into 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.
In September, city and county officials agreed to nonbinding mediation at the request of Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Allen Barnes and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Barnes indicated at the time that he would not release the needs assessment letter the county needed to move forward with permitting of the planned Glades Reservoir until Gainesville and Hall County would agree to mediation over Cedar Creek.
Mayor Ruth Bruner and Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver talked recently on the phone and agreed to hold off on mediation.
"Once we get the ruling, we will be able to determine the speed at which we need to develop Cedar Creek, whether that's now or in two years or three years," Oliver said Thursday. "Depending on what they get in terms of permitting 18 million gallons or credit for water returned to the lake, we feel like we'll be better able to make an educated guess as to what we're doing."
In December, commissioners discussed making the process open to the public and including all members of the commission and council in discussions.
However, the city has suggested the mediation stay between just Gainesville's mayor and mayor pro tem and county chairman and vice chairman.
In February, Bruner suggested the council appoint herself, Dunagan and appropriate staff members to go into mediation.
The terms of the mediation are still up for discussion, and both groups must sign an agreement and then vote to accept the terms, including when it will take place and which officials will be present.
Putting the mediation at a later date will not affect the county's timeline for submitting the federal permit application for Glades, which they hope to do by June 10.