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Concerns over reservoir plan
Worries: Endangered species, trees
2 Shoal Creek Hearing pic
Joe Cook spoke to commissioners last week about the proposed Shoal Creek reservoir. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

One Dawson County commissioner said nothing raised during a recent public hearing on a proposed reservoir came as a surprise to him.

"I didn't hear any issues I haven't already heard before," Gary Pichon said of Thursday's session.

"I wish the community as a whole would understand that we do not own that property, the state does not own that property in the Dawson tract and the county does not own that property."

Owned by the city of Atlanta, the 10,000-acre Dawson Forest Wildlife Management tract was originally purchased as a second airport site.

While the possibility of building an airport has not been ruled out, plans lately have turned to water.

"The city of Atlanta is free under the law of Georgia to sell that to whomever they wish right now and that land could be developed into anything," said Pichon, who is a proponent for the reservoir if the remaining property is preserved for what he calls a grand park.

"I want to preserve as much as I can in greenspace for the use of the people of the state of Georgia," he said. "And if the reservoir is the means to do that, then I'm for the reservoir."

Earlier this month, the county commission heard presentations from Etowah Water and Sewer Authority and Republic Resources, two entities vying to build the possible reservoir.

Both reservoir concepts would feed off Shoal Creek and the Etowah and Amicalola rivers and call for the remaining 8,000 acres to be preserved.

Commissioners heard from several residents concerned about the proposal during both public hearings on the issue. And Thursday night, numerous environmental groups weighed in against it.

Concerns ranged from the reservoir's proximity to the abandoned Lockheed Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory in Dawson Forest to endangered species in the rivers.

Also aired were concerns about tree loss and interbasin transfers that would limit the amount of water to downstream communities.

Will Wingate of the Georgia Conservancy called the proposed reservoir "a statewide issue" and presented the commission with 700 signatures opposing the effort.

"This is too important a tract not to be preserved as it is," he said, adding the group would be interested in joining with the county to pitch a 1-cent sales tax referendum to help preserve the land.

Pichon said his plan to preserve the space does not include using taxpayer dollars.

"Some of the things you think about is, if we had park, who is going to pay for the park on a day-to-day basis?

And I don't want the county citizens to do that. I want a separate entity to hold that property and figure out how to manage it and be self-sustaining so that we don't use taxpayer money within the boundaries of the park."

Pichon said he hopes the commission will make a public declaration for or against the park and reservoir in the near future.

That way, he said, "All the players that are out there can know what our preferences are."

The commission got involved in the matter after recent state legislation gave local officials a say in building reservoirs in their counties.

While general talks about the 10,000 acres have been going on for several years, Commission Chair Mike Berg cautioned that no one should expect any action anytime soon.

"According to the mayor of Atlanta [Kasim Reed] last week, it's going to be a while before anything transpires here," Berg said.

"Actually, he asked us why we were having a hearing on his property. And I explained to him that while it was his property, it's in our county."

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