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Cumming, Forsyth County to look at joint pipe to release treated water into lake
county water plant 3 jd
This pipe connects to a raw water storage tank that hold 20 million gallons of untreated water from Lake Lanier. - photo by Jim Dean

After plans for a pair of new wastewater treatment plants fell through in recent years, Forsyth County and the city of Cumming are considering a new combined project to release treated water into Lake Lanier.

Discussion of such a facility was added to the agenda of a special-called joint meeting of the Cumming City Council and Forsyth County Board of Commissioners on Thursday at the county administration building. Commissioners approved moving ahead with the study by a 5-0 vote, and the city council approved by a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Lewis Ledbetter absent.

“[Cumming Mayor Troy Brumbalow] and I were talking about how foolish it would be to do two discharges into the lake and how absolutely wasteful it would be to have two and the millions of dollars we would have each as a city and a county of running line back into the lake and how it would be just double the expense for the citizens of Forsyth County to both be doing that,” said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills.

Both county and city officials said they have been told by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that any new facility must pump treated water back into Lake Lanier.

“Any future sewer plant, wastewater reclamation facility – however you want to say it going forward – the treated water has to go back into the lake,” Brumbalow said. “Not the ones that we have now, the ones in the future.”

The sides discussed the possibility of combining efforts for a treatment facility in the future but did not move ahead with any plans.

“If [city officials] aren’t even possibly thinking about one for 7-10 years, does it not make more sense to work on the discharge first, how much discharge it may be for all of those plants,” said District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent.

Brumbalow agreed and said the first step should be letting water and sewer officials do a study before committing to plans for a joint facility.

In recent years, both governments have faced issues with proposed new plants.

Most recently, county commissioners voted in December to terminate a $3 million land purchase contract with Andrew and Lisa Tallant for 99.9 acres at the end of Millwood Road for a site proposed for a plant.

That decision came after a heated meeting with nearby residents, who spoke out against the proposed facility, citing concerns with health, smell and being close to the planned East Forsyth High School.

Neighbors also said they were not informed by the county about the plans until after the purchase was approved and they had no say in the process. Neighbors said they only found out after a resident saw surveyors in their backyard.

Several of the evening’s speakers also wanted to see the facility in other large, industrial uses including a rendering plant and the Eagle Point Landfill, and many wanted to see the county extend the closing of the contract to allow time to address community concerns.

The city dealt with its own issues with a new plant in 2017, when the 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.

City officials at the time said the property was not large enough for the proposed facility planned at the site, which was planned 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. Officials said materials, geography and rock deposits also raised issues for the project.

At Thursday’s meeting, Tim Perkins, the county’s director of water and sewer, said he had spoken with Cumming Utilities Director Jon Heard, who was not at the meeting, about studying whether costs could be saved by combining the plans.

“[The state] actually told us we’ve got to bring part of our existing flow from the Fowler plant back to the lake, and I believe they called the city down to a meeting a couple of years ago and said, ‘Part of your Bethelview Road flow needs to go to the lake,’” Perkins said. “We think it makes sense to do one discharge pipe that has to go out into the lake. We may join the two pipes together from those plants somewhere.

“One pipe going out into the lake may be cheaper, of course, the bigger the pipe, the more infusers, the further it has to go. It may turn out that it’s not cheaper, but it should be studied to see if we can join together.”

Perkins said a treatment facility in Gwinnett County releases treated water into the lake through a one-mile line that is 100 feet below the lake’s full pool and said the county could have a similar pipe, but that would depend on volume and diffusion of the treated water.