Local officials are surprised at the pace with which the Atlanta City Council is moving on a proposal to sell 10,000 acres in Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.
Brooke Anderson, general manager of Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, said he is pleased the council has acted so quickly on the plan, which could create a 2,000-acre reservoir to supply drinking water for the area.
Eight members of the Atlanta City Council signed a resolution Sept. 8 asking Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin to consider selling the property.
Atlanta originally bought the 10,000 acres in the 1970s as a possible site for a second regional airport. If talks move forward, the council’s transportation committee could review the proposal Thursday.
Councilman C.T. Martin, vice chair of the council’s transportation committee,
drafted the paperwork.
“The resolution says we think this is a good idea that needs to be discussed,” said Martin, adding it’s just the first step. “The resolution gets something before the full council.”
Anderson said the resolution came at least two weeks earlier than expected.
“This is a very fast moving project that’s constantly changing, and one the Etowah board is 100 percent behind,” he said.
The authority, which serves Dawson County, began working with Republic Resources Inc. of Atlanta about a year ago to buy the property.
According to Anderson, developer Jerry Daws has the means to raise the $600 million to $650 million needed to build the reservoir by damming a portion of Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Etowah River.
A new private authority, established through Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, would own and manage the project.
The reservoir would generate an estimated 100 million gallons of water per day for Dawson, Forsyth, Cherokee and Pickens counties. Pipes would also run farther south, carrying water to Atlanta.
A 100 million gallon per day water treatment plant would also be included in the project.
While the reservoir would take up one-fifth of the land, the remaining 8,000 acres would be preserved.
“This is as pure a project as there is,” Anderson said. “There will not be any development around this reservoir. The 8,000 acres will be set aside for permanent conservation.”
State Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville had an engineer review the property a few years ago as a possible reservoir site.
“Now we’re at a place where water is no longer going to be cheap,” he said.
Anderson said the authority is fortunate to have Republic Resources leading the way.
“They are investors,” Anderson said. “And like any investors, they are going to put up their money and in return they will get a return on their investment. They have the ability to pull together money others would not.”
At one time, the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area was a nuclear aircraft testing facility.
Maintained by the Department of Natural Resources, it is the largest contiguous forested area in North Georgia not owned by the state or federal government.
With its main entrance in southern Dawson County, the forest is considered a land conservation and recreation jewel, offering hunting, fishing, kayaking and horse and mountain bike trails, among other activities.
The forest sees as many as 80,000 visitors a year, according to park estimates.
The need for an additional drinking water source in the area grew more pressing with a recent ruling by a federal judge that will limit water withdrawals from Lake Lanier.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson of Minnesota told Georgia to reach an agreement with Florida and Alabama or persuade Congress to authorize the lake as a water source in three years.
The parties involved in the local reservoir proposal understand there are hurdles ahead. In addition to the financial difficulties, environmental, legal and legislative challenges are expected.
Still, Anderson said he hopes the Atlanta City Council will approve the project within the next few weeks so the land sale can be final by the end of the year.
That would clear the way for the permitting process, which could take about 18 months.
Anderson said it likely would take about five years to build a reservoir.