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Plans for reservoir continuing
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Developers say plans to build a regional reservoir remain in place despite a lack of state funding.

"We have spent a tremendous amount of our own resources trying to identify a regional water supply reservoir," said Scott Cole of the Georgia Reservoir Co., a private partnership working with the city of Dawsonville to build the Calhoun Creek Reservoir.

The proposed reservoir, which would straddle the Dawson-Lumpkin county line near Hwy. 9, calls for a dam 2,000 feet wide by 230 feet tall and a 450-acre lake.

A portion of the dam would fall within the city limits, while drawing water from both the Etowah and Chattahoochee river basins.

Last week, Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan said he made a rash statement when he called the project a "dead issue" after learning anticipated funding from the state was no longer available.

"We are still pursuing this. We just know there are no state funds available for us right now," he said. "I didn't mean for it to sound like we were no longer working toward the project."

In February, the city applied for two surface water withdrawal permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. If approved, they would allow the city to pull water from the Etowah and store it in the proposed reservoir.

The city also applied for a $20,000 grant to cover a feasibility study on the project, in addition to the more than $20 million in direct state investment as part of the Governor's Water Supply Project.

While there are no funds immediately available from the state, Cole said the group has no intention of ending its pursuit.

"As we talk to the governor's office in particular, they said they're a large number of projects that are further along in the process than [we] are, and there's limited resources for the governor's water supply program to assist any of the projects that come and ask for funding," Cole said.

"We were encouraged to go ahead and make the application for funding from the governor's water supply and we're going to continue to pursue that."

According to the city's application, the cost breakdown of its project would have involved $20 million to acquire land and $162 million in various engineering, construction and miscellaneous fees for a total of $182 million.

Per the application, the city's request for a $20 million direct state investment was intended to cover the land acquisition, with "all other portions of the project" coming from "private investment."

"Regionalism is the focus of the governor's water supply program," Cole said. "And so our proposal to the state and these entities [is] that we have, and what we know to be, a superior regional water supply reservoir site.

"We are asking the state to fund through direct state investment ... the acquisition of the real estate necessary to preserve this regional opportunity until a time that it needs to be constructed and fully operational."

At least one Dawson County commissioner said he is against using taxpayer money for the project. Gary Pichon has asked his colleagues to speak out against the reservoir, citing as reasons for his opposition the city-county service delivery agreement, plans for the Russell Creek Reservoir less than 5 miles from the proposed site and a lack of public input.

"The public has a right to have input in this. Right now, I'm not seeing any of that," Pichon said. "To me, these are really big changes, and it doesn't matter what side you come down on, at least it ought to be done with the public being very, very aware of it."

The Georgia Reservoir Co. has also faced opposition from a local organization made up of an affected property owner vying to build a similar reservoir at the same location.

Cole said he is encouraged by Etowah Hills Corporation representatives' interest in a reservoir at the proposed site.

"We think it's a positive development that they think a reservoir in that location is a good idea," he said. "What we're really encouraged by is that [Rebecca Reeves Carter] and Etowah Hills like the location of Calhoun Creek for a reservoir."

Speaking on behalf of the Etowah Hills Corporation, Carter has addressed city and county officials with her concerns regarding the proposed Calhoun Creek Reservoir.

A Lumpkin County resident, she's also discussed plans for the Etowah Hills Reservoir. She contends it could serve as an emergency reservoir rather than a regional water supply source, and could be built on fewer acres and designed with the least amount of impact on neighboring homes and the environment.

Cole said he knows the project will have opponents, specifically nearby landowners.

"We understand that reservoir projects are not universally popular," he said. "We understand that reservoir projects can provide a hardship on the landowners there. It's the topography that determines which landowners are affected ... but that's not really something that we can control. It's purely a function of elevation and topography of the area.

"Certainly, if we could do something that would maintain the utility of the site and miss some of these people, we would entertain that type of alternative."