A view of the Lookout Creek property Dade and its water authority are preparing to purchase for the eventual construction of a reservoir.
Over the screaming of naysayers, Dade County and its water company are going matter-of-factly forward with plans to procure land for the eventual purpose of building a reservoir on Lookout Creek. County Attorney Robin Rogers appeared on Friday at the monthly meeting of the Dade Water Authority’s board of directors to ask that the board apply for a GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) loan to guarantee there will be money to buy a $500,000 tract for the project should grant money not be found in time to make good on the county’s purchase option.
“The plan is apply for a GEFA loan and get that submitted in case the grants don’t fall through,” explained Rogers.
“Or if they don’t come to $500,000,” added County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who also chairs the water board.
“If they do, then I don’t know that any of the $500,000 would be actually used,” said the attorney.
That was a condition that water board members insisted on before they voted to approve applying for the GEFA loan—that the board not be required to accept any funds from the loan should it be approved but not needed.
“How far along are you in the grant process?” asked Sherri Walker, assistant manager of the water authority.
“We’re getting it in, trickling,” said Rumley. He said he’d be meeting with the governor this week.
Rumley said he’d found out through State Sen. Jeff Mullis that GEFA money could be used as a backup plan to the grant process. “The county can’t be the lead on it, since it’s a water authority project anyway.”
The plan, unveiled without preamble at the county commission’s June 2017 meeting, calls for the county, city of Trenton and Dade Water Authority to own and maintain the eventual reservoir jointly. Trenton Mayor Alex Case, who was present at the water board meeting, said the city commission hadn’t yet formally approved the project but was still discussing it. The county commission itself approved unanimously and without much discussion at the aforementioned 2017 meeting $50,000 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) money to put an option on the land.
And since then it has emerged that the whole reservoir idea came from the Dade Water Authority’s long-range planning, specifically a 20-year strategic plan it made in 2005. The authority had concluded that building a reservoir was more cost-effective and would assure Dade a better water supply for its future needs than the alternatives, which were buying water from Tennessee Water, the local subsidiary of for-profit giant American Water, or relying on wells and aquifers. A subsequent bid by American Water in 2014 to take over the water authority seemed to bolster the little water company’s determination to assure the county's water autonomy. Thus when the 60-odd acre tract off Sells Lane came up for sale last year, buying seemed the natural fruition of its strategy.
At the May 18 meeting, Attorney Rogers said the loan application had to come from the water board as opposed to the county or city but that the cooperation among the three governmental bodies should weigh in to their advantage with GEFA. “Part of the thinking behind doing it as a city/county/water authority project, I think, is because there’s a preference given for intergovernmental cooperative sort of arrangements,” he said.
Rogers said there is no urgency from the landowner to close the sale—the option is good through the fall or winter, he said—but that GEFA meets only rarely so that the application had better be submitted sooner rather than later if the money is to be available on time. If the board missed GEFA’s June 21 meeting, he said, it might have to wait to reapply until August.
Rumley said he had only recently found out that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) was also a source of loans and grants, and that some GEFA loans had what was called “principal forgiveness” after a period of time. “There’s a good possibility that that might work into this,” he said.
Rumley said county residents had come to him with the concern that their property taxes might go up if and when the reservoir is built. Another lady worried it would lower her property values, he said. “They’re sure not going to go down, and whether they go up is according to who you find to buy your house,” said the county boss.
The water authority’s Sherri Walker worried about financial arrangements with the county and city should the loan proceeds in fact be utilized. “How would we get our two-thirds back from the city and county?”
She was assured the water board would meet again, and vote again, before it was decided whether to accept any of the loan’s proceeds.
Other issues before the water board arose from the southern extension of the city sewer along Highway 11 to Brown Road. Rumley explained after the meeting that the city sewer had been extended with federal funds to accommodate the Head Start building near the Four Fields complex when that facility was built. Since then, other households have tied onto it. Now some ambiguity exists about who is responsible for sewer sections and who must solve problems that arise with growth in that area.
Presumably, Trenton, as the only sewer operator around, will be that party but Mayor Case said there are bumps to work out. “If we’re going to be responsible for it, we need to know about it and how it works and locate it and be prepared for it,” he said.
Mayor Case described problems that had developed with the city sewer’s Fulbright station when the system was swollen with rain. “When it fills up, we start popping manholes from here south,” he said.
And no one did the city the courtesy of reporting the problem, said the mayor. “They’re videoing it on Facebook,” said Case. “That’s how we saw it.”
The water board meets at 8 a.m. on the third Friday of the month in the Dade Administrative Building. The next meeting is on June 15.