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County offers to help city with water project
Mayor, council ask for specifics of proposal
water intake 1 jd
Workers direct a pump operator as he sends concrete into the bottom of the city of Cumming's expanded water intake facility Thursday morning. It will take about 60 truckloads of concrete to pour the 5-foot-thick floor of the chamber near Lake Lanier. The project is part of a three-phase plan to ensure the city and Forsyth County's water needs for the next 30 to 40 years. The county has offered to help the city pursue grant funding for the project's third and final phase. - photo by Jim Dean

Cumming has been offered help it may not need from an unlikely ally in pursuing grant funding for the third of a three-part water project.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt on Tuesday presented city council with a request from Forsyth County Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse.

The letter, dated June 24, offered the county's assistance in applying for a Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority grant for a "joint water project."

The state has $40 million in grant funding for water supply projects, according to the letter, which also indicated by working together "our chances to receive funding are maximized."

Laughinghouse could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In the letter, however, he offered the county's grant-writing services and to pay any costs incurred in applying for the grant.

Gravitt told council he wants more specifics from the county.

"I know that in the past, the county has reneged on intergovernmental agreements, so they're not to be trusted," he said. "I want to see in writing what ... agreement or joint water project they're talking about."

In May, the city and county resolved a months-long legal battle over the recent five-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax collection. The agreement also cleared up other conflicts between the two governments.

The city's main water project, to which the letter was referring, is a raw water intake facility at Lake Lanier, to supply both the city and county's water needs for the next 30 to 40 years.

The county does not have a permit to withdraw water from the lake, though it has been trying to get one for decades from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Dubbed the 1020 Project, for the level at which it will allow the city to withdraw water from the lake, the facility has been broken down into phases, two of which have been finished.

The $5.4 million first phase included excavating the wet well on shore, site grading and preparations for installing a pipe connecting the lake and well.

The second phase included construction of a 78-inch pipe that extends 3,000 feet into the lake.

The nearly $4.4 million project, said Cumming Utilities Department Director Jon Heard, will guarantee that even in time of drought we'll be able to withdraw an adequate supply of water for the city and county."

The city tapped its reserves to pay for the first two phases. It is accepting bids for the third phase, which Heard estimates will cost about $4.5 million. It includes pumps, electrical facilities, chemical storage and a pumping facility.

The final phase is the only one eligible for the special funding, said Heard, adding the city is working with the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to pursue the grant.

Gravitt said after the meeting Tuesday that he would look into working with the county once officials had provided specifics of the proposal and "if it's something that would be beneficial to Cumming and Forsyth County."

"Obviously, we're working on the city's water system, and the city's water system belongs to the citizens that use it," he said. "We're just managing it and in charge of it and I think we're doing a good job."

Tim Perkins, Forsyth County Water and Sewer director, said he's sat through several presentations of the grant opportunity from the state, and this project would be ideal for the funding.

The city doesn't need the county's help to receive the funding, Perkins said, but applicants "get extra points in the evaluation criteria if you're doing it with multiple jurisdictions."

"We thought it would be good to offer to assist the city of Cumming in the grant application," he said. "It would save the city some expense on building that intake. It may or may not be a benefit to the county."