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Plan is to wean off city water
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also Tuesday, the Forsyth County commission:

• Reviewed the possibility of allowing a cell phone tower at Sawnee Mountain Preserve. A representative of Wireless Facilities Inc. was asked to seek alternatives in the area before returning to the board.

• Accepted the proposed conceptual plan for Matt Community Park on the Wallace Tatum property. Plans for the 185-acre greenspace site include a library, nature trails and sports fields.

• Discussed how to move forward with the fourth and fifth phases of the Big Creek Greenway. The proposed alignment for phase four met resistance from property owners. The board will consider a route along Kelly Mill Road after Commissioner Jim Harrell talks residents who may be affected.

• Heard a presentation updating the finances of projects in the current 1-cent sales tax and the $100 million parks, recreation and green space bond.

• Weighed a plan from the Sizemore Group, which is designing the Matt Green community, to give the county 3 acres for a fire station. The group offered a trade for a quarter-acre that includes current Fire Station 3.

• Voted 5-0 to approve an agreement with the state Department of Transportation to operate the Dial-a-Ride program. The grant is for $315,733, with a 50 percent match required from the county.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

With no new options for water sources, Forsyth County will need to continue buying untreated water from Cumming.

However, the county plans to wean itself off buying treated water from the city.

County commissioners discussed possible terms for a water contract proposal with the city at a work session Tuesday.

With the county's water treatment plant expansion under way and the city facing a growing demand, the commission is looking at buying less drinking water.

"We want to phase off them when they need it for themselves," said Tim Perkins, the county's water and sewer director. "They've got a good bit of room before they're really going to need us to not buy water from them."

The county's plant will double the capacity it can treat, up to 24 million gallons per day, which commissioners approved Jan. 26.

Both treated and untreated sections of the counter offer to the city will be sent as one, once the county finalizes its proposal.

The current contract between the city and the county will expire in 2012.

Commissioners asked staff to prepare a few different options for how the county could enter a contract lowering treated water purchases over time.

They debated the length of the contract, since the future of water is uncertain.

While Chairman Charles Laughinghouse wanted a five-year contract with three five-year renewal options, Commissioner Brian Tam worried a short contract would keep the city from alloting water for the county, leaving no other options for treated water.

"I think the guarantee works both ways, and I don't want to be caught short," Tam said.

The city has a permit to pull water from Lake Lanier. The county doesn't, though it has tried to get one from the state.

The overall future of water in the area is essentially on hold, after a federal judge ruled last summer that water supply was an illegal use of Lake Lanier.

The ruling gives 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.

Negotiations over the water contract extension with the city have been spanned four years.

Tam isn't sure the county would be best served by debating every five years.

"Let's wean ourselves down as opposed to going through this every five years," he said.

Laughinghouse felt there could be a more optimistic outlook in the future.

"In five years ... we may not need water from the city," he said. "Why would we buy it if we don't need it?"

Perkins plans to meet with John Heard, city utilities director, to determine a good time frame for stepping down treated water purchases.

The county's uncertain water supply future made drafting an offer for untreated water more certain.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on the terms of an agreement for untreated water, which staff will prepare for a final vote at a future meeting.

In the 50-year proposal, the county will offer to pay for 64.7 percent of the cost of the city's water intake facility, which has a potential capacity of 105 million gallons per day. That would cost about $9 million.

"If we're going to pay for infrastructure, we need to essentially be a partner and own 64.7 percent of that infrastructure," Laughinghouse said.

From this cost, the county proposes to subtract the depreciated cost of two, aging 16-inch intake pipes the city owns.

The county previously used these water lines, but stopped when a new 48-inch pipe was installed to carry water to the county's facility.

The county will ask for a credit of about $3.2 million for the investment made on these lines, which are no longer for county use.

Perkins said it isn't uncommon for buyers to receive a discount for contributing to infrastructure improvements.

If this offer was accepted, the county would pay the city about $5.8 million up front for access to water.

In the proposal, the county would also be responsible for repair and upgrades to pipes exclusively feeding its supply.