TRENTON, Ga. — Dade County commissioners agreed to spend $100,000 on land they hope to turn into a lake.
The commission approved an intergovernmental agreement with the county's Water and Sewer Authority on Thursday night, signing off on the purchase of 61 acres on Sells Lane. Officials plan to build a reservoir there, arguing it will help the county attract business and prepare for a larger population than the current 16,000 residents.
The authority, which approved the agreement Tuesday, will bare the brunt of the purchase. On top of the county's contribution, the board will pay $400,000, bringing the total price to half a million dollars. The authority is funding its contribution immediately with a low-interest loan, which water and sewer customers will pay back.
The commissioners voted 3-1 Thursday night.
"When you're looking at the future, you can't put a price tag on it," Commissioner Robert Goff said before Thursday's meeting. "And you can't put a real, bottom-line, got-to-have-it need on it."
With County Executive Ted Rumley absent because his mother was in the hospital, Commissioner Mitchell Smith was the only "no" vote. He believes the reservoir is a waste of money. He wants the county to sue the state of Tennessee, demanding access to the Tennessee River. (This would throw the county in the midst of the long simmering, water wars among Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.)
"Would the money not be better spent for the county — not the state of Georgia — but for the county to sue the state of Tennessee?" he asked rhetorically.
Thursday's decision comes after an 18-month effort to buy the land. The commissioners signed an option-to-purchase agreement with the property owner, Jack Sells, in June 2017. They agreed to buy the land for $500,000 and paid 10 percent up front. The county later paid another $25,000 to Sells with grant money. The $75,000 the county paid so far will apply to its total $100,000 contribution.
Commissioner Allan Bradford said the land is good for a reservoir because the property naturally slopes, which means workers will not have to build a large dam.
He said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has examined the land and offered estimates of what a reservoir could look like. Of the 61 acres of land, about 50 acres would be covered by water, totaling about 158 million gallons. The project would cost about $5.1 million, which commissioners hope can be covered mostly with federal and state grants.
Bradford said surveying and obtaining permits will take about two years. The commissioners do not know when the actual reservoir will be a reality.
Rumley, who is also the chair of the authority board, pushed for the purchase because he believes a reservoir is important for the area's growth. At previous meetings, he said the county almost ran out of water during a drought two years ago. Fires on the mountain at the time exacerbated the problem.
But the county was not actually close to running out of water during the drought, said Authority Assistant Manager Sherri Walker. The county draws its water from Lookout Creek, which normally features a daily flow of 11 million gallons. During the low point of the drought, Walker said, the water flowed at 8 million gallons a day. However, the authority can only draw 3.8 million gallons a day, according to its permit with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
Goff said a reservoir would help recruit business. He cited an unnamed company, which supposedly told the county it uses 3 million gallons every day. Goff said that business would have opened on the north end of the county, where it would be a Tennessee American Water customer instead of a customer of the authority.
Nevertheless, Goff believes the example shows why they need to build.
"Water is one of your economic things," he said. "People come in and say, 'Well, what's your water source? And what's your sewer source?' They know they've got to pump it and dump it, pump it and dump it."
Smith also proposed a shakeup to the authority's structure that would remove Rumley from the board. Right now, each commissioner appoints one member, and Rumley serves as the chair.
But Smith proposed giving Rumley's seat to the Trenton city commission, allowing the elected officials to appoint one person. He said the city should have representation. He also proposed banning certain people from the board — county commissioners, city commissioners, county employees, city employees and authority employees. He would also ban any of those people's spouses, siblings or children.
Any change would have to go through the state legislature, with State Rep.-elect Colton Moore and State Sen. Jeff Mullis authoring the bill. But the county commissioners tabled Smith's proposal until next year, when new commissioners Phillip Hartline and Lamar Lowery take seats.
Smith and County Commissioner Scottie Pittman are on the way out after they lost elections earlier this year.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.