A state Senate bill to allow for private development of water facilities in conjunction with a state agency died in session last week, according to one of its co-sponsors.
State Sen. Chip Pearson said the bill would have made it possible for private operation or ownership of projects like reservoirs through the state, with some local government input recommended throughout the process.
An official with Etowah Water and Sewer Authority spoke with some concern at how the legislation could affect a project in the works for the local authority.
Brooke Anderson, general manager with Etowah Water and Sewer Authority said based on his reading, the legislation “allows for public private partnership between a private entity and the state whereby the local entity can have input but not approval.”
Etowah Water and Sewer Authority is looking at buying 10,000 forested acres along the Etowah River that could provide regional water solutions. The tract is owned by the city of Atlanta.
Anderson said the Atlanta project is “the only project the authority is planning that has to do with a private partner, so as we talk about public-private partnership, this is a public partnership bill ... we read it with that eye, because it’s the only project that is similar in nature to this.”
The local authority and a private company have plans to buy the land in Dawson Forest, damming a portion of Shoal Creek to build a 2,000-acre reservoir.
Pearson said Senate Bill 321 would allow the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to begin a bidding process for “private sector partners to come in and build [a] project.”
He added that it would not have affected the proposed reservoir site “unless Etowah made a conscious decision to use this bill.”
Anderson, however, was concerned about the bill’s implications for all water facility projects.
He said the bill “as written, provides for an opportunity for entities to partner with the state.”
“It’s very plain,” he said. “Does that take authority away from us? Probably not, but does that create an opportunity ... probably so.”
Pearson said the bill “has nothing to do with the [city of Atlanta] project.”
He added that because of the bill’s current status, it should be of little concern.
“It’s dead. It’s over,” Pearson said. “It would have to be reintroduced from scratch next year.”
Pearson announced late Friday that he would not seek re-election to the Senate, citing a need to spend time with his family after three terms.
Earlier last week, Pearson responded to an Atlanta newspaper report that questioned his role in sponsoring the legislation.
He issued a news release addressing reports that the bill would impact the city of Atlanta and Etowah Water and Sewer Authority by removing control from local governments and giving it to the state.
He issued the news release on behalf of himself and Etowah Water and Sewer Authority.
Anderson, however, said the release did not represent the authority’s views.
Pearson said that prior to sending out the news release, he spoke with Anderson about it. He said he did not, however, get final approval from Anderson before giving it to the media.
“The press release came from me, and I sent it to Brooke ... Brooke never called me back,” Pearson said. “[We] had talked about doing it earlier on Monday [April 26].”
Pearson sent the release to Dawson Community News just before 5 p.m. April 26.
Anderson said Pearson’s comments “did not relate to the authority. It wasn’t something we would comment on.”
The release criticized the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Sierra Club.
Anderson said the local water authority has “no qualms with these people, so we’re not going to say anything negative against either.”