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Water rally encourages awareness, action
County may take impasse to court
Jack Gleason hands out information on the city-county water contract dispute to passing motorists Sunday afternoon in downtown Cumming. - photo by Alyssa LaRenzie

A rally Sunday afternoon at the Forsyth County Courthouse drew people with passion and questions about the ongoing water dispute between the county and the city of Cumming.

A crowd of about 30 gathered at the gazebo and on the sidewalk to discuss what can be done to get the contract issue resolved fairly.

The county and city governments have not been able to agree on a new contract since the previous one expired in May.

Forsyth has a permit allocation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but no way to draw the water from Lake Lanier.

As a result, it buys most of its untreated, as well as some treated, water from Cumming.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt declared on Aug. 24 that the city would shut off the county’s water supply from the water intake facility at the lake if an agreement is not reached by Oct. 1.

The county would still be able to buy treated water at a higher rate to provide its customers.

The county commission is exploring options to go to court over the dispute.

Chairman Jim Boff, who addressed the gathering Sunday, said a vote has been scheduled for Thursday’s commission meeting on whether to seek a court injunction disallowing the city to turn off the county’s lake water supply.

Rally organizer Hal Schneider, who is also president of the Forsyth County Tea Party, pressed Boff on the matter, asking “why hasn’t that happened yet?”

“So far, the typical vote is 2-2,” Boff said.

Schneider elaborated that the split is Boff and Commissioner Todd Levent in favor and Commissioners Brian Tam and Patrick Bell against.

The fifth commissioner, Pete Amos, has recused himself from votes on the water contracts.

He did so after the local ethics board ruled in May that his financial interest in a company that buys and resells county and city water to residential customers presents a conflict of interest.

Those speculated to be in opposition have so far expressed that the disagreement can be resolved outside of a courtroom.

Charles Laughinghouse, a former county commissioner, said if the city does shut off the county’s lake water supply, “it might be the best thing to happen to the county” because people will see the impact in the delivery service and cost of water.

The group lamented that many county residents are unaware or disinterested in the dispute, something Schneider expects would change if the water is shut off because bills will likely increase.

“Unfortunately, that’s the only thing that starts waking people up is when it hits their pockets,” he said.

Boff encouraged the gathering Sunday to write their local state representatives to let them know how they felt about the situation. He also asked the group to explain the matter to friends and neighbors.

“People here may be intense in their feelings, but it’s not a lot of people,” Boff said.

Jack Gleason, who co-organized the event, handed out information to passing motorists in a flyer titled “Cumming mayor reneges on ‘water contract’ and threatens to increase water rates by 2,500 percent.”

The increase is figured in that untreated water from the city costs about 10 cents per 1,000 gallons and treated is $2.50.

Gleason said the city doesn’t have the permit or the capacity to supply only treated water to the county under its Oct. 1 threat.

“We should be grateful that the city has provided water all these years,” Gleason said, “but it’s a new day and we need to take control of our water destiny.”

Reached by phone Monday, Gravitt declined to comment on the rally or water situation.

He and the city council were scheduled to discuss the issue during their meeting Tuesday night.