A grassroots effort to stop a developer from dumping partially treated wastewater in Dawson County was realized last week when Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill to regulate sludge application.
Surrounded by local leaders and residents who spearheaded the initiative, Deal signed House Bill 741 into law April 23 at the Dawson County Government Center.
"House Bill 741 simply says the logical things that you would think we would want it to do," Deal said. "It is a piece of legislation that ensures both local and state jurisdictions have the ability to work together to find the problems that are associated with wastewater treatment and the disposition of sludge coming from those wastewater plants."
The bill stemmed from an issue Dawson County faced about two years ago when a developer petitioned to dump partially treated waste on property near the North Georgia Premium Outlets.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville authored the bill, which passed 161-1 in the House and 52-2 in the Senate, where it was carried by Sen. Steve Gooch, whose 51st District includes Dawson County.
"The bill that we're here for the governor to sign today ... is a bill that started really here in Dawson County and it started with a group of citizens and a group of commissioners being concerned about something that was going to happen here in the community," Tanner said.
"When they realized that the local government, the local citizens, had no power and no control over this effort, the citizens came together with the commission and set out to change that, and through the hard work of folks ... this particular application was denied."
The measure gives local governments and residents a say in where sludge can be placed in their communities. It also requires any public hearings on matters of sludge application to be held in the county where the land is located, contrary to prior law that did not regulate such a criteria.
The debate over sludge application started nearly two years 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, he planned to spread partially treated liquid waste from the Forsyth County plant on about 65 acres at Lumpkin Campground and Harry Sosebee roads in Dawson County.
The site is about one mile away from the busy Ga. 400 corridor, which includes the North Georgia Premium Outlets, the county's largest source of sales tax revenue.
"Local cities and local counties across our state and local citizens will have input as to where sludge is placed in their communities. And for that we are very grateful," Tanner said.
Passing the bill, according to Deal, guarantees the people most affected have a voice in the process.
"Certainly, I want to thank the sponsor of this legislation, Rep. Kevin Tanner. He has herded it through the General Assembly process. It is a good piece of legislation and I am honored to be signing it here today," he said.
Jane Graves, president of the Dawson County Homeowners and Civic Association, was among the residents leading the challenge against Curren's application.
"I think it's very satisfying. A lot of folks have worked very hard on this. You can see what happens when people work together," she said.
The group collected nearly 4,000 signatures and openly voiced its opposition. They also worked with local leaders to develop a plan that could be taken to state officials.
"It wasn't as simple as just gathering signatures. I also want to thank Commissioner [Mike] Berg, because he was the one that came up with the idea of using the land use plan as the vehicle to help with local control of sludge," she said. "It really was a team effort, a little bit like ... football.
"We may have kicked the ball into play, but it takes a lot more than citizens to get it down to the end zone. I'm thrilled."
As president of Association County Commissioners of Georgia, Berg said the sludge issue became a priority for the state agency that is considered the legislative advocate and voice for Georgia's 159 counties.
"Kevin, with the help of ACCG, wrote a bill, which because of my presidency, I got a priority for our policy committee to push with legislators," he said.
"So it was a combination of all those folks working together to make that happen. It's one of the good stories where local folks from the ground up were able to create something that helps all counties and all cities in the state."