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County opposes reservoir
Officials question timing, funding
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Dawson County commissioners have made their opposition to the proposed Calhoun Creek Reservoir official.

In a 3-0 vote July 2, the commission approved a resolution opposing the Dawsonville-supported dam and lake that would straddle the Lumpkin County line near Hwy. 9.

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

"This is a huge investment in the county and there have not been enough public discussions about should we do this or should we not," said District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon, who authored the resolution.

As reasons for opposition, Pichon also cited a service delivery agreement with the city, the county's long-range plan and financial concerns over using taxpayer money to fund the project.

"They've went down there and asked for the money to buy the land already," he said.

In February, Dawsonville 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.

Scott Cole of the Georgia Reservoir Co., the private partnership working with Dawsonville to build the reservoir, said the group hopes to have a decision on state funding later this year.

"We think at this point for the board to author resolution opposition to the project is premature," he said. "[The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority] is still moving through the vetting process. [The Department of Community Affairs] will be meeting later this year to award direct state investment that we hope will award to purchase some of the land associated with the project."

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

City Councilman Chris Gaines views the county's opposition as a rash decision.

"I think their decision to oppose it is a little pre-emptive. All we're doing at this point is due diligence," he said.

"Just like you do in the business world, you do a business plan and see if it's a viable thing to do. If it is, you take a step forward. If it's not, then we stop. That's where we're at today."

Mayor James Grogan said he doesn't understand why the county commission "would spend time on a resolution when they are not in the water business, anyway."

The importance of pursuing the project, he said, is two-fold: To provide a regional water source and a potential revenue stream for the city.

"The region is going to need water in the future," he said. "Today it's not an issue, but we're looking toward the future. We will have growth and we will need water.

"This also creates a revenue source from any water that is sold from that reservoir and provides monies for us to do things we want to do in the city."

The Calhoun Creek Reservoir project has also faced opposition from other sources ranging from nearby property owners and environmentalists to a Lumpkin County corporation that wants to build an alternate reservoir in the same area.

More than 300 signatures have been collected opposing the Calhoun Creek project, according to Katie Klemenchich, who lives in the Auraria community near the proposed site.

"A dam and a reservoir would not only trample on our way of life, which is natural, but those of the animals and the fish," she said. "It would trample upon our rights to live the way we want to live, the way we chose to live, which is why we live here."

Known as the location of the first gold rush, Auraria is rich in history and should be preserved, Klemenchich told commissioners last week.

"We'd like to see that land bought and protected. The question of a reservoir is something that a lot of people are not interested in having. We need to have places that are not changed."

Lumpkin County resident Rebecca Reeves Carter, a representative of the Etowah Hills Corporation, has addressed city and county officials with her concerns regarding the proposed Calhoun Creek Reservoir.

She said her plan for an emergency reservoir could be built on fewer acres and designed with the least amount of impact on neighboring homes and the environment.

Councilman Gaines, however, has said a project of such magnitude should be left to professionals.