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Reservoir bill defended
Senator explains role
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Forsyth County News
In response to an Atlanta newspaper report that questioned his role in sponsoring legislation to allow private development of reservoirs, state Sen. Chip Pearson this week issued a press release saying the intent of the new law had been misstated.

In an interview Monday, Pearson said the bill's intent is to provide for private operation or ownership of projects like water reservoirs, but only with governmental input and oversight.

A story in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution had questioned Pearson’s support of the bill in light of his partnership in a consulting company that may benefit from such projects.

To better explain the legislation, Pearson issued a press release on behalf of himself and the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority.

Authority members, however, distanced themselves from the release, saying it did not come from their organization.

The authority declined to comment further Tuesday.

Pearson, a Dawsonville Republican whose District 51 includes part of Forsyth County, said Monday that Senate Bill 321 would allow the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to begin a bidding process for "private sector partners to come in and build the project."

He said GEFA would become "the facilitator of a water project, not the purchaser."

"So if they put it out for bid in Dawson County, then it would still be done in conjunction with the county, city or water authority," Pearson said.

Currently, the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority is looking at the purchase of 10,000 forested acres along the Etowah River that could provide regional water solutions. The tract is owned by the city of Atlanta.

Pearson's news release addressed reports that the bill would impact the city of Atlanta and Etowah Water and Sewer Authority project by removing control from local governments and giving it to the state.

On Monday, Pearson said the bill is "simply another tool in the toolbox for communities to use down the road."

"It's one option, but it's not the only option," he said. "It has no bearing on what they're doing on the [city of Atlanta] project."

According to the bill's wording, the authority "shall be authorized and encouraged to seek the advice and input of the affected local governing authorities, local water authorities and the private financial and construction sectors."

The bill cleared the senate March 18, but a vote has yet to be taken in the House.

Pearson said the bill is part of a recent attempt to meet future water needs in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that gave Georgia three years to ink a water-sharing deal with Alabama and Florida.

"From a regional and economic standpoint, from a quality of life standpoint ... it's all contingent upon us having adequate water," Pearson said.