The Dade County Water and Sewer Authority has decided not to move forward with a water reservoir project that has been in the works since 2018.
A 61-acre tract of land between Sells Lane and Lookout Creek Road and adjacent to Lookout Creek in Trenton, Georgia, was purchased jointly by the authority and the county in December 2018. At that time, the county put $100,000 toward the purchase of the property, and the water authority obtained a loan through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to pay $400,000.
The loan taken out by the authority is a 15-year loan at 2.13% interest, authority General Manager Sherri Walker told the Times Free Press by email on Friday. It will be repaid over time by water and sewer customers.
"It is the authority's unanimous opinion that this is the best decision for the citizens of the county and the ratepayers for water service," the authority said in a news release published shortly after the decision to cancel the project was made in executive session during Monday's meeting.
When plans were being made to develop a reservoir in 2018, the authority and Dade County commissioners said it would help the county attract new business and prepare for a larger population.
They also said the land would be good for a reservoir because the property has a natural slope, which meant workers would not need to build a large dam. Commissioners also said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division had examined the land and provided projections of what a reservoir could look like.
Now, after getting back the results of a feasibility study, commissioners say the population growth they expected never came, and they cited a list of issues that made the project financially unviable, including problems with the permitting process, environmental concerns and the fact that the area is in a flood zone.
Toward the end of the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authority employed Rick Whiteside of Corblu Ecology Group and Cedartown attorney Mike McRae (who has experience representing water authorities and has been involved in projects similar to Dade County's reservoir project in the past) to determine whether the project could move forward successfully.
Corblu's study found that several regional reservoir projects, although more extensive than the one proposed in Dade County, have had significant problems with both the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's requirements for approval and the permitting process.
Among them, the authority would have to obtain a certificate of need proving the project is needed to serve increases in population within the county. The population, however, had actually decreased between 2010 and 2020, according to the study.
Additionally, the study found that although the state has permitted withdrawals of 3.8 million gallons per day from Lookout Creek for the authority, the average daily withdrawal is approximately 2 million gallons. It would therefore be difficult, the authority said in its news release, to demonstrate the need for new water sources.
In looking at similar projects, the study found that delays and cost overruns appeared likely for Dade County. It took 15 years for Paulding County to obtain one required permit for its reservoir. In Carroll County, it took between six and eight years to obtain a certificate of need, and though the initial planning for the county's reservoir began in 2006, the study said Carroll County has still not received another necessary permit.
The Corblu study also found that five wetland areas would be hurt by the planned project and that costs for mitigating the damage could be between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Meanwhile, the entire area of the proposed project is in a flood zone, the study reported, and moving ahead with building in the area would add further delays and costs.
"With these environmental concerns, significant unknown costs and the lack of growth in Dade County, the cost to the citizens of the city and county would be prohibitive to even attempt this permitting process," the authority said. "For these reasons, the authority has chosen to not move forward with the process."
Asked whether the county would attempt to construct a reservoir elsewhere, Walker said it was not likely at this time.
"During previous regional planning studies, several potential alternate sources of water were considered. None of these possible alternate sources were studied to determine if they would in fact be viable sources," she said by email. "The Dade County Water and Sewer Authority has determined that it would be quite difficult to move forward with this project at this time due to the costs involved."
According to the agreement signed in 2018, the water authority is entitled to receive 80% of the net proceeds from the sale of the property, with the county receiving the other 20%.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.