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County renews talks on water
Meeting is first with city in three years
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Forsyth County News

For the first time in three years, Cumming and Forsyth County officials are huddling to discuss water.

The gathering was proposed Tuesday by County Commissioner Brian Tam after the commission rejected a proposal to explore long-term water solutions with Fulton County.

Tam, who suggested the county first "give the city a seat at the table," and Commissioner Jim Boff were scheduled to meet Thursday with Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and other city officials.

Tam said discussions at the meeting could include the county's water contract with the city of Cumming, which expires in three years. A measure to extend the pact was voted down in June 2006.

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

The city, which does have a withdrawal permit, sells about 4.5 million gallons of water per day to the county.

Gravitt said this is the first time since that vote that the water contract has been brought back up.

"It's good news," Gravitt said. "Water's very critical. We need to see what the county's position is on the future for water in the county."

At Tuesday's work session, Commissioner Patrick Bell said signing a memorandum of understanding with Fulton County regarding future water use "sends the wrong message to the city of Cumming."

"We're going to another county to talk to them about water?" Bell said. "I'm just asking why we're making the effort to sit down and talk with other counties, when we don't make the same effort to talk with the city right here in our own county."

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said commissioners were misinterpreting the intentions of the Fulton County plan.

"The only purpose is to allow the two governments to officially talk and draft some plans as to what might be viable alternatives," Laughinghouse said. "It's an opportunity to work with them to look at possible alternatives in both the Chattahoochee and Etowah [river] basins."

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the proposal would "basically join the two respective county forces in an effort to come up with water solutions." It would not commit the board to anything except a "recognized relationship."

Boff said he didn't "follow the logic of how doing this sends a message to any other entity except us and [Fulton County]."

Boff, Laughinghouse and Jim Harrell voted Tuesday to sign the memorandum of understanding with Fulton County.

Tam and Bell opposed the measure.

An intergovernmental agreement requires approval from four of the five commissioners.

Harrell said the deal was a way to find options for the county.

"We need to turn over every rock we possibly can," he said.

Laughinghouse agreed. He said the chief concern was to "make sure that Forsyth County, and that includes the city of Cumming, has alternatives for water."