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Lake Lanier Association supports proposed wastewater treatment facility in north Forsyth
Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier. - photo by File photo

After a heated meeting Dec. 12 between neighbors and Forsyth County officials, a group aiming to keep Lake Lanier clean has voiced support for a proposed wastewater facility in northeast Forsyth County.

The Lake Lanier Association released a statement on Dec. 18 in support of a proposed wastewater treatment facility on 99.9 acres at the end of Millwood Road.

“We have been aware, for several years now, of the proposed plant in north Forsyth and are watching it to see what develops in the [Georgia] Environmental Protection Division permitting process. From a Lake Lanier Association perspective, we will weigh in on the water quality in the lake aspect of this issue, not the property value, placement or property rights off-the-lake aspect,” said Executive Director Joanna Cloud.

In the release, officials said the association was “very supportive of municipalities around the lake increasing their water returns to the lake” and echoed claims from county officials that more local water needs to be returned to the lake than ends up in septic systems.

“Many people consider the treated water coming back into the lake as treated to such a high standard that it is actually cleaner than the water being pulled out at the intake facilities for drinking water,” Cloud said. “We have water returns above Buford Dam of only about 50 percent for water pulled out of Lake Lanier. We can do better. Metro Atlanta has returns approaching 80 percent for water pulled out of the Chattahoochee. If we want to keep Lake Lanier at higher lake levels, especially during peak summer season, recycling water and increasing our returns is part of that solution.”

The association said it will monitor permit levels for the treated water and other standards.

With the addition of the facility, Cloud said the bacteria concerns “would likely decrease” and said the main concerns were runoff from agriculture and livestock and aging septic systems.

Previously, county officials said the facility will sit on about 25 acres of the nearly 100-acre tract, and construction is expected to start in 2020. Officials said funds for the plant will come from fees from water department customers and not taxpayers.

Treated water will be returned to Chestatee Bay.

The Millwood Road site was chosen by an engineering firm hired by the county, which decided it was the best of 82 sites originally considered, which was whittled to six sites, with two being preferred due to parcel shape, nearby development, terrain, access and other issues.

Tim Perkins, director of the county’s water and sewer department, said at the Dec. 12 meeting the county had been told since 2002 that the water needs to be returned to the lake rather than building new septic tanks, which he said are considered a “consumptive use.”

Perkins said consumptive uses are a factor in the “water wars” between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

The county is expected to close on the land in January after approving the purchase following an executive session at a work session on Sept. 11 and final approval as part of a consent agenda at the board’s regular meeting on Sept. 18.

During the meeting, several neighbors spoke out against the proposed facility, citing concerns with health, smell and being close to the planned East Forsyth High School.

Neighbors also said they were not informed by the county about the plans until after the purchase was approved and they had no say in the process. Neighbors said they only found out after a resident saw surveyors in their backyard.

“The people here in this room have been very upset the county has been keeping us in the dark about this,” said resident Bo Slaughter at the meeting. “I understand the need to keep it quiet while you’re looking for land and looking to be able to purchase it. However, the contract was signed on Sept. 10. There is no reason after that point you couldn’t come to the citizens in the area.”

Residents brought up issues with potential spills and referenced last month’s spilling of 188,000 gallons of stormwater and wastewater from a manhole into Big Creek.

Since the surrounding homes are on septic systems, speakers were also frustrated they would be impacted by the plant but not able to use it.

Residents also expressed frustration – and some disbelief – that there was no final cost for the building, no plans for where it would go on the land, no design and other issues.

Several of the evening’s speakers also wanted to see the facility in other large, industrial uses including a rendering plant and the Eagle Point Landfill, and many wanted to see the county extend the closing of the contract to allow time to address community concerns.