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Habersham sewer attorney plans suit against Cumming
City’s lawyer disputes wrongdoing in condemnation agreement
Habersham

Following the city of Cumming’s recent decision to back off from plans for the condemnation of a private sewer plant, the owners of the facility have announced plans for legal action.

In November, the Cumming City Council voted to rescind condemnation of the Habersham Wastewater Treatment Plant and abandon plans for a future state-of-the-art facility for that site.

George Butler, the attorney representing the Habersham Action Committee, which owns and formerly operated the facility, said there will be legal action taken against the city over the issue.

“Legal action is inevitable,” Butler said Tuesday morning.

Butler has been critical of the city’s plan for the facility since this summer and said the committee was waiting to see what the city’s next move might be.

“HAC is sitting back with a Cheshire grin on its face eagerly awaiting to see how the city gets out of this mess,” Butler said. “It’s too late in the day for the city of Cumming to act like it has not destroyed the philanthropic business that HAC was running.”

Butler said in his view the city was trying to act like there was no damage done to HAC or customers.

Throughout the process, Butler said the trust indenture — an agreement between the city and the HAC  — referenced by the city to condemn the property was illegal and “fraudulent,” and, while it had been signed by his clients, was incomplete and “was at best conditionally ‘delivered’” to the city under specific conditions he said were not satisfied.

City Attorney Dana Miles said he “couldn’t speculate” on potential legal action but disputed Butler’s claims.

“I’ve heard him make the claim that the trust indenture was done fraudulently. I have no idea what the factual basis of that would be,” Miles said.  “It certainly can’t be that his clients didn’t sign it, because they did.”

Miles said there were some issues with exhibits in the agreement, but said the city, as trustee, could take over operations of the plant if it were not operating within the law. He said it was his understanding that a member of the HAC asked the city to take it over. 

“If that’s the case and they were asking for our help, I don’t know what else we could do besides come in and try to operate the plant as effectively [as possible],” Miles said. 

Miles also disputed claims from Butler that the city had changed locks to keep HAC out of the plant, significantly damaged the business and hat the plan was motivated by the city wanting the plant’s permit to discharge treated water into Lake Lanier.

In April, city council members voted unanimously to take over the plant and later charged those connected $6,250 in fees to connect to city sewer, which could be paid in a discounted lump sum of $5,000 or paid in installments with a required interest rate.

The site was planned for a state-of-the-art water treatment facility planned at the site, which was scheduled to be built in the next few years and take on about 111,000 gallons per day with a goal of 15 million gallons per day by 2050.

City officials have said the property was not large enough for the proposed facility.

“The city examined the Habersham property and determined that the property wasn’t suitable for a future water plant that would meet the needs of the city of Cumming,” said Jon Heard, utilities director for the city. “Therefore, the city decided not to pursue the land on which the Habersham Wastewater Treatment Plant is situated.”

Since reverse of the condemnation, residents have expressed concerns that a $6,250 fee charged to former HAC customers was not being returned. Heard said those funds were to connect to city sewer rather than being specifically for the plant.

“Thus far, the city has spent over $300,000 making repairs and needed maintenance to the overall Habersham system,” he said. “In the upcoming weeks, the city intends to make a connection from the Habersham system to the city system. The total cost of that project will be over $300,000.”

Heard said more than half of the sewer lines were in need of replacement and all funds from residents will be used in the area.

Residents were first given two months to respond before the deadline was extended another 60 days by the council in July. The facility served about 400 homes in five neighborhoods off Buford Dam.

The system dates to the 1970s, when it was more common for large neighborhoods to build their own due to a lack of infrastructure.

Before the decision to take over the facility, a small shed holding the main sewage pump of the facility was damaged in a fire on April 6, and untreated sewage was diverted to a nearby city sewer line.

In June, Forsyth County District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson held a town hall — the neighborhoods are in her commission district, though the county is not involved — where residents said they were considering at least three types of lawsuits: a 30-day injunction to stop work at the plant, suing the city to get back tap fees and to sue previous property owners if the current homeowners’ closing paperwork says they’re on public sewer.

In the early 2000s, the facility was taken over by homeowners. The group eventually became the Habersham Action Committee, which previously handled business items.

The timeline of the legal issues between the city and the HAC is not clear as of press time.