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Discussion swirls around sewer plant

POSTED: October 25, 2013 12:34 a.m.
 

Buying a sewer plant in neighboring Fulton County when Forsyth could build its own is akin to purchasing a used car instead of a new one, according to county water and sewer director Tim Perkins.

That used car, though, is like getting two six-year-old Bentleys for the price of one, said Ron Green, owner of the Cauley Creek Water Reclamation Facility.

Commissioners vetted the two proposals for sewer plants to serve south Forsyth during a work session Tuesday, hearing arguments for building the Shakerag facility or reopening the existing Cauley Creek.

As the county solicited bids to build its own plant, the commission in September abandoned consideration of buying Cauley Creek, which is on Bell Road just south of the Forsyth line.

A bid tentatively awarded for construction of a county plant later totaled nearly $29 million.

On Oct. 17, the commission was scheduled to take a final vote on the construction bid, but first reopened discussion on Cauley Creek, inviting Green to make a presentation.

The Shakerag construction vote was then postponed to the Nov. 7 meeting.

On Tuesday, Green sat on one side of the table and Perkins on the other to lay out the facts as they saw them.

Commissioners went into a closed executive session after the meeting, but no official action was taken regarding Cauley Creek, according to County Attorney Ken Jarrard.

The Cauley Creek facility had been operating under contract with Fulton County until about a year ago, when that board terminated its agreement.

Green said he’s offering the plant for $20 million, which includes the cost to get it ready for operation.

Cauley Creek has the capacity to treat 5 million gallons a day, which is double the build-out planned for Shakerag.

He also contends the plant can operate for substantially less than Shakerag, stating engineers have included unnecessary components.

“The bottom line is Cauley Creek will save the county a lot of money,” Green said.

Perkins said he “respectfully disagreed with some of the analysis and evaluation,” stating the county and its engineer firm, CH2MHill, approached the comparison between the plants with what it would take to make them equal.

Modifying a plant to handle lower flows will cost some money and won’t run as efficiently, he said.

“These things wear out and they don’t last forever,” he said. “This facility’s got some age to it, and there’s evidence of that.”

Cauley Creek is also operated differently from county plants, which caused some concern, Perkins said.

In addition, by the time the county needs to expand beyond the 2.5-million-gallon-per-day maximum capacity planned at Shakerag, estimated in 2035, Cauley Creek is likely to be “obsolete,” he said, so the higher treatment capacity at the existing plant isn’t needed.

Complicating the matter, Perkins said, were jurisdictional issues.

Since Cauley Creek is in the city of Johns Creek in Fulton County, Forsyth would need to work with both of those governments.

The city has expressed opposition to Forsyth tearing up sidewalks to lay pipes to pump the sewer, and Fulton has no interest in the reopening of the plant, Perkins said.

Forsyth would also have to get a new permit to operate the facility or get Fulton to transfer theirs to Cauley, he said.

If they wished to expand Cauley, Johns Creek would need to be on board to approve the permits, said Perkins, adding that Shakerag sits on a large property buffered from residents.

Green stated earlier that he’d met with Johns Creek staff, who believed there wouldn’t be an issue with laying the pipes. However, Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills was quick to question that accound.

Mills said she had spoken with four of the five city council members and learned they opposed the project.

She also said she got calls from people lobbying on behalf of Green and Cauley Creek, who contended that CH2MHill had a vested interest in the county choosing Shakerag, and Perkins had a dislike for Green due to a past county transaction.

Forsyth previously bought the Manor plant to serve southwest Forsyth, and Perkins said it’s about to need about $160,000 in repairs.

He also said CH2MHill “saw work” if the county selects either plant, and he believes they did an “open-minded” evaluation.

Commissioner Jim Boff noted that the county spent “significant legal costs” defending the permit for Shakerag from a challenge by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a watchdog advocacy group.

Green said Cauley can treat at a higher level, but the possible permits from Forsyth or Fulton allow a lower level of treatment.

Since the state Environmental Protection Division owns the permit, Green said, they can make an administrative change from Fulton to Forsyth within a few months.

Perkins said the “backsliding” in allowable treatment levels could trigger a challenge from the national Environmental Protection Agency.

Shakerag would take about two years to build.

 

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