By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County Water and Sewer Authority and the Dade County Commissioners held a joint public meeting on Monday, Nov. 8 to discuss the future of the Sells Lane property, which was bought with the intention of building a water reservoir.
“The reason that we are here, several years ago, the county and the water authority went in together to purchase property off Sells Lane. There has been much said recently about that property. I think that, with the information we had at the time, it was a wise decision,” Water Authority Chair Eddie Cantrell said.
Cantrell noted that, at the time, the water authority voted 5-0 and the county commissioners voted 4-1 to purchase the property.
In addition to the reservoir, there were also plans for walking trails and a park within the property.
The Water Authority put in 80 percent of the money and the county put in 20 percent for the purchase, which was $500,000 total.
“We agreed to that, but in all practical matters, we were 50-50 partners,” Cantrell said. “We decided that we would hire a lawyer [Michael McRae] specifically to look at this reservoir. He did research on the contracts, research on the project, and he recommended to us that we proceed by hiring a firm to do a general scope of the work.”
The Water Authority Hired Corblu Ecology Group, which cost about $6,650, paid by the Water Authority.
“We felt like this was the first step to a very long process of moving forward and eventually getting a reservoir and a park for the county,” Cantrell said. “Both Corblu and the attorney came back, and they basically said, drop this. You don’t want to spend any more money here.”
“None of us said that it couldn’t be built. We didn’t say the county was wrong,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell cited infrastructure issues, lack of money, and a long permitting process as reasons why the Water Authority decided to back out.
Cantrell read a recommendation to the Dade County Commissioners.
“The Dade County Water and Sewer Authority has determined that it is not economically feasible, nor in the best interest of authority rate payers, to pursue any further attempts to construct an impoundment on the property. We formally request that the county take over control of the property by assuming the remaining debt … In this way, the county may determine if it wishes to proceed with construction, the proposed impoundment without interference from the Water Authority … The Dade County Water and Sewer Authority would be willing to negotiate with the county once we are notified of their intentions,” Cantrell read.
The Water and Sewer Authority voted unanimously on the recommendation.
After the recommendation was read, Cantrell opened the meeting up to comments.
“We hear you. We hear what you’re saying. That’s why we’re here tonight, to try to work,” County Executive Ted Rumley said.
A citizen asked how much the Water Authority has paid on the property to date. General Manager Sherri Walker said that they have paid $85,735. The interest rate is 2.31 percent. The Water Authority is asking the County Commission to take over the remaining balance.
County Commissioner Phillip Hartline noted that there are at least two Georgia counties working on reservoirs and wanted to know the cost of those projects. Walker replied that one is costing about $40 million, and another is costing about $60 million.
Commissioner Lamar Lowery noted that he had been upset about the Water Authorities’ initial announcement, regarding backing off the project.
“It’s not necessarily what you did was wrong, it is how you went about it,” Lowery said. “That’s the problem I had, with the public statement that you had put out before coming and talking to us … we were a team, and when you put that letter out, it caused a lot of distrust.”
“In our mind, [the project] came to a screeching halt. You’re right. I should have handled that different, and for that I apologize,” Cantrell responded.
“When we did this, it was for the future. It probably won’t be in my lifetime that I’ll see it. But at least a place in the county would be set-aside for that when that day comes. We can’t give you an answer right now. But we wanted to hear what you had to say,” Rumley said.
“We didn’t expect anything tonight. We just wanted to let you and the citizens know where we stand,” Cantrell responded.
Commissioner Robert Goff noted that he is involved with the National Association of Counties, as well as the Coosa-North Georgia Regional Water Council, which Cantrell is also a part of. Every time a meeting is held, the discussion turns to water for the future.
“We as a commission, and you as a water authority, we get all of these people saying that we never plan. Brother Eddie and I, that’s what we’re doing. Some people say that we’re throwing money away. We’ve got to look at the future of Dade County,” Goff said. “I still say, in the beginning, this started as a future thing, to purchase the land. I understand if you say you can’t do it right now.”
“I’ve been in this county all my life. I was never swayed one way or another about the reservoir, but I do have kids and grandkids, and I know that water is going to be something that you live and die by. What Robert said, it hit me. You guys need to get together and you all figure it out. Don’t let anything come between you, and do what’s best for Dade County,” citizen Danny Holland said.
The County Commission will discuss how to proceed, but it was not determined when this conversation would take place.