In a letter dated Oct. 10, Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan asked for money as a direct investment from the state to purchase 1,100 acres for the Calhoun Creek Reservoir.
“Use of the Direct State Investment funds will permit Dawsonville to negotiate with and acquire real property from willing owners,” Grogan said in the letter to Kevin Clark, commissioner of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA).
Dawsonville and other applicants were asked Sept. 18 to reapply for funds because the state “refine(d) the criteria used to evaluate applications…”.
“The program needs to allow the state to have significant interest in the project,” said Clark. “The state direct investment program provides the state with an entitlement share of storage capacity. If the state needs to increase water flow during a drought, it has a right to do that. This will mitigate low flow issues, and increase flow in river basins where the projects are located.”
Clark explained there are no grants within the Governor’s Water Supply Program.
“There has been a misconception out there that state direct investment is a grant,” he said. “It is not.”
Funding for the program is out of general-obligation bonds, not cash, according to Clark.
“If the state issues bonds, then the state must own the project or part of the project. This is why it is called state direct investment,” he said.
Additionally, the state would buy the property, then lease it back to the local government. At the end of the lease, which can be as long as 50 years, the local government has to buy out the state, said Clark.
Calhoun Creek is a proposed 590-acre reservoir that straddles the Dawson and Lumpkin county lines. If approved, 75 percent of the reservoir would be in Lumpkin County with the remainder in Dawson.
“Much, but not all, of the baseline technical and engineering work necessary to support the applications for the federal and state permits is complete,” according to Grogan’s letter. “The work completed to date indicates the project will receive the permits required for construction. With full funding in place and approval to expedite design, we anticipate one year to complete studies, two to three years to permit the project, and three years to construct and fill the reservoir.”
The reservoir plan includes a proposed dam height of 220 feet and water-storage capacity of 10.6 billion gallons, according to a presentation made in May to the city by Darag Scott Cole of Hall Booth Smith, an attorney representing Georgia Reservoir Company, LLC, a private group.
At the time, Cole said Calhoun Creek would provide a new source of water to support growth in the Ga. 400 corridor and would allow “Dawsonville to take the lead in water-resource management in the region.”
The project now is expected to “permit the state of Georgia to store state waters for later release…,” according to Grogan’s letter.
Further, GEFA’s new evaluation criteria states projects under consideration will “meet a water resource need of state significance and represent a good long-term investment for the state.”
Cole’s presentation also noted there would be local government participation from Lumpkin County, the City of Dahlonega, Dawson County and Forsyth County.
But all of the entities have rejected the project.
On Aug. 8, Forsyth County commissioners abandoned interest in the project.
“We looked at it and right now we don’t need to be involved,” said Forsyth Commission Chair R.J. (Pete) Amos. “We looked at both being a water buyer and part-owners of the reservoir. We wouldn’t have owned any land around it, but we would have had an interest in the water. The future may be better, but not right now.”
Forsyth commissioners voted 5-0 to terminate interest in the reservoir, Amos said.
In July, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution that opposed using state or federal money to finance the project.
“Nothing has changed,” said Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg.
And Lumpkin County Commissioner Chris Dockery said he does not see his community being a customer if the project is built, and that he does not support Lumpkin property being taken.
“I’ll spend every dime I have to prevent Dawsonville from annexing property in Lumpkin County with the support of the board,” Dockery said earlier.
On May 7, Grogan said the project would serve the region and become a revenue source in the future. “In the event that we needed water for the city, it would be available to us through this project,” he said.
On Monday, House Rep. Kevin Tanner said local entities should work together.
“I encourage the City of Dawsonville, Dawson County, and Etowah Water to continue to find ways to work together…,” Tanner said.
Sen. Steve Gooch agreed.
“I would like to see the city, county, and Etowah Water Authority come together and hold a series of public meetings or a summit on the future of water supply and treatment for the entire community,” he said. “I would be happy to host such a meeting…”.
Brooke Anderson, general manager at Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, who is working on a separate project known as Russell Creek Reservoir, planned to serve the needs of Dawson County through 2050, said he has concerns.
“Through its direct investment, the state is getting into the business of owning and controlling water,” he said.
Clark will make his recommendations on funding to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs on Nov. 6.