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Board close to restarting water talks
Contract with city expires in 2012
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Forsyth County News
Forsyth County appears close to reviving water talks with the city of Cumming.

Barring any changes, the commission could give second and final approval to its latest proposal March 16.

The plan got preliminary support from the commissioners Tuesday in a 3-2 vote, with Brian Tam and Patrick Bell opposed.

Thanks to a recent county policy change, intergovernmental agreements like the water contract no longer require a super majority, or 4-1, vote.

The existing water contract is scheduled to expire in May 2012. The governments have been going back and forth on the matter for about four years.

Forsyth gets most of its water from Cumming, which has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for withdrawals from Lake Lanier. The county does not.

Commissioners viewed the proposal Tuesday as a good place to continue the discussion.

“There will probably be some negotiation,” said Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said. “There may be outright rejection. I don’t know. We have to start somewhere.

“Basically, the idea is, let’s send it over and see what comes back.”

The proposal is split into two parts: treated and untreated water.

The proposed agreement for treated water would last five years, with an automatic renewal for five years unless either party wishes to back out of the agreement with a 180-day notice.

The city would be required to allot the county the amount of treated water it received in 1999, which was about 1.62 billion gallons and is its current required yearly purchase.

The county has proposed the wholesale price for treated water at $1.80 per thousand gallons, with possible adjustment each year based on the Atlanta consumer price index, not to exceed 4 percent.

Under the current arrangement, the county pays $2.47 per thousand gallons.

“We picked a low number to start obviously,” said Tim Perkins, the county’s director of water and sewer.

Commissioners disagreed on the price.

“It needs to be an equitable offer,” Bell said. “We’re going to muddy the water with a $1.80 offer.”

Tam pointed out that other area governments pay more than $2 per thousand gallons.

Laughinghouse said the county is at “$1.80 because we have no idea what the city’s costs are.”

“Is it low ball? It may be,” he said. “I don’t know. We wouldn’t know that until we view their cost figures. It’s a starting point for negotiation.”

The county may not need to buy as much, if any, treated water from Cumming in five years, given the recent decision to expand its own water treatment plant.

In addition, growth may mean the city would not be able to accommodate the county’s water needs without expanding its plant in a few years.

“By 2017, they wouldn’t be able to provide their peak month and our peak month without going over,” Perkins said. “By one projection, they will need that water for themselves.”

Though the board wanted a flexible contract time limit for drinking water, they decided on the maximum amount of time allowable for buying untreated water from the city.

Under the plan being considered, the county would continue to buy untreated water for 50 years.

It also proposes to pay 64.7 percent of the costs of design and construction for the city’s new water intake facility at Lake Lanier.

In return, however, the county would be allotted 64.7 percent of the permitted water withdrawl, which has a potential capacity of 105 million gallons per day.

Each government would pay for its own improvements as needed.

In addition, the county is asking for $2.88 million in credit for municipal infrastructure to which the county contributed but does not have access.

Money aside, all talks are tempered by the prospect that no one may have access to water in the future.

A federal judge ruled last summer that water supply was an illegal use of Lake Lanier.

The ruling gave Georgia three years to come up with a water-sharing plan with Alabama and Florida, stop using Lanier for water consumption or have Congress reauthorize the lake’s use.

“It all boils back to the raw water out of the lake, either we’re going to get it or we’re not,” Perkins said. “We’re in the same boat.”