The threat of a sludge application in Dawson County may no longer be an issue after officials with Etowah Water and Sewer Authority agreed to treat waste from a plant in neighboring Forsyth.
Brooke Anderson, the authority's general manager, said Tuesday it has entered into a contract for waste from the Hampton Creek Water Reclamation Facility.
"Starting this week, they will be hauling their sludge to the Dawson Forest Water Reclamation Facility," Anderson said. "We will press the sludge and do what we call de-watering, and then we'll haul it to a compost facility in Gainesville, where it will be mixed with wood products and turned into fertilizer."
Anderson said he hopes the agreement will put an end to a debate started nearly a year ago when developer Ken Curren filed an application with the state Environmental Protection Division to amend the Hampton Creek Water Reclamation Facility sludge management plan.
According to the application, Curren sought to spread partially treated liquid waste from the Forsyth plant on about 65 acres at Lumpkin Campground and Harry Sosebee roads in Dawson County.
The site is within one mile of 15 percent of Dawson's population and the busy Ga. 400 corridor, which includes the North Georgia Premium Outlets, the county's largest source of sales tax revenue.
"It was a real threat at the time that he was going to bring that sludge to the site near the outlet mall," Anderson said. "We looked at ways we could use our resources to make this go away to protect Dawson County and the Ga. 400 corridor from the application of sludge.
"We wanted to protect the interest of Etowah Water and Sewer, Dawson County and the 400 corridor."
Reached Tuesday, Curren said he was not aware of any contract with the authority for treating sludge from the Hampton plant.
"This is the first I've heard of it," he said, referring additional question to the authority.
According to Anderson, Environmental Management Services operates the plant for Curren. The contract is between the authority and the firm.
"It's a 12-month renewable contract that's really just to make sure everybody involved is doing what they're supposed to be doing," he said.
Curren's application to EPD has remained a contentious issue in the county and led the county commission to approve an ordinance in September that bans the application of Class B sewage sludge in Dawson County, despite a state law that regulates sludge and trumps local policy.
EPD identifies Class B sewage as biosolids that have been treated but still contain detectible levels of pathogens.
More than 200 residents and business leaders attended the two public hearings the county was required to hold on the matter.
They voiced concerns over potential pathogens seeping into the water supply, diminishing property values and a drop in sales tax revenue.
Commission Chair Mike Berg called the ordinance a tool in the county's toolbox and said the policy prepares Dawson for the future.
There are reportedly talks under way in the state legislature to address sludge application.
"We are working at the state level and trying to get some legislation in that allows EPD to recognize land use and zoning as part of the application process," he said.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Republican from Dawsonville, said he plans to introduce legislation that would change the state law during the next session.
"I believe all of us recognize that our waste must go somewhere, but I feel it is important to give our local citizens a voice in this process," he said. "The best way this can be done is by giving our local elected officials some control through local zoning."