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Battle over EPD permit over ... maybe
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Forsyth County News

Those who wonder at the length of time it takes for some government projects to go from concept to reality could learn a lot from the effort it has taken for the county to earn a discharge permit for the Fowler wastewater treatment plant.

In August 2010, the state Environmental Protection Division issued a permit to the county to allow the Fowler facility to discharge 6 million gallons a day of treated water into the Chattahoochee River.

A month later, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper appealed the permit, arguing that the pollutant standards used by the state were “unnecessarily weak.”

Thus began a legal journey that has taken more than three years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to resolve.

If, in fact, it is over.

The Georgia Supreme Court said last week that it will not hear the latest appeal in the case, seemingly putting an end to legal wrangling that has worked its way through an administrative appeal, the Forsyth County Superior Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals.

After the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision the attorney representing the county said “this should let the county move forward and get this project going.”

A spokesman for the Riverkeeper group, meanwhile, said it was considering what other options it might have.

The intent here isn’t to analyze the science used in determining whether the appropriate standards were set in allowing the discharge permit initially. That’s a job for better informed experts in a complicated scientific field. Of note here is the agonizingly slow pace at which projects such as this move forward, if they do so at all.

In the grand scheme of environmental issues the Fowler permit is relatively small potatoes, especially in comparison to something like the creation of a major new reservoir. And yet the fight from initial approval of the permit to the courts final decision has taken close to four years.

The county alone has spent some $527,800 in legal fees, in addition to whatever the state has spent in defending its decision.

The point here isn’t that governments are infallible, nor that the science upon which such decisions are made should never be challenged. It’s just that when such challenges do exist, it would be nice to find a way to expedite them through the courts so that vital public projects can go from drawing board to reality, or back to the drawing board if necessary, in the shortest amount of time possible.