Fulton County turns deaf ear to Cauley Creek

Request to reconsider denied in 4-3 vote



ATLANTA – A last-chance call for the Fulton County Commission to reconsider the closing of Cauley Creek Water Reclamation Facility operating as a public-private partnership with the county was voted down in a 4-3 vote.

North Fulton’s District 3 Commissioner Liz Hausmann had asked for a reconsideration of the decision to close the largest wastewater reclamation facility in the state in light of concerns raised by Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Judson Turner.

“I think it is not in the best interests of the county to ignore the wishes of the EPD and the state,” Hausmann said.

She also noted it would not be in the county’s best interests to create an atmosphere of “bad blood” with the state as it goes into the 2013 legislative session.

In his letter in response to Fulton’s termination of the contract, Turner said the county ignored proper procedure in trying to get the contract terminated quickly. Fulton originally had the termination on the county’s consent agenda in June, a move that would have terminated the contract with no discussion at all.

Turner expressed his concerns first and foremost that the county is acting unilaterally in a matter that affects the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District and has left many questions unanswered.

Turner noted the county proposed to replace irrigation water use contracted by Cauley Creek with its own potable water. That will end a practice that has saved billions of gallons from being withdrawn from the Chattahoochee. It will also turn a big plus in the state’s ongoing water wars with Alabama and Florida.

However, the commissioners did not give Turner’s comments much weight. They noted it will save Fulton rate payers about 4 percent when it eliminates the $6 million annually it pays Cauley Creek to treat 5 million gallons of sewer water.

However, it will require buying the bonds secured for Cauley Creek, a cost of about $12 million that will have to be paid up front. It also ignores the fact that Fulton County owns about $11 million in sewer taps that remain unsold.

So the county is also walking away from that $11 million in revenue and the revenue that would go to it for treating the water through Cauley Creek.

Tim Equels, who was the assistant county manager at the time of Cauley Creek’s negotiation and oversaw the county’s licensing of the facility, said the county makes about $7.50 per thousand gallons on the sewer taps it has in operation and would earn more as the unused capacity it has comes on line in Cauley Creek.

Equels also pointed out one of the reasons for Fulton County’s termination of the contract was that Cauley Creek was always only a “temporary” facility.

But county records show that while it was considered temporary in the beginning, when the scope of technology changed, so did the project’s lifespan.

“The new technology means less water taken from the river, and less waste load put in the river,” Equels said. “So the waste allocation made ultimately to the state was based on the two plants operating.”

Thus when EPD’s Turner says the county’s allocation will be re-examined, that is no idle threat, Equels said.

That could affect the county’s allocation. Certainly, it means that allocation of Cauley Creek is on the table. If that is lost – and Turner said it would almost certainly be – then the county’s Johns Creek Environmental Campus loses its reserve to treat additional capacity in the wet season.

However, none of this was brought up by the commissioners. Instead, Commissioner Bill Edwards complained rate payers in his district were subsidizing the golf associations of North Fulton.

“What does it do for people who can’t use those eight private golf courses? This is an equity issue. Why should South Fulton pay for the quiet enjoyment of others?” Edwards said.

Fulton proposes to replace the treated wastewater with potable water that is normally charged at $3.02 per thousand gallons. The county will sell it for the same $0.65 per thousand Cauley Creek charges.

Commissioner Emma Darnell also raised the point of serving eight private golf courses as somehow giving them preferential treatment at the expense of rate payers.

The commissioners also brought up a lawsuit Cauley Creek had to bring – and which the county lost in court – when Fulton tried to refigure the rates it owed Cauley Creek.

One source has suggested Cauley Creek’s contract is a pawn in a game of “tit for tat” as the Legislature has redistricted more north metro (i.e. Republican) legislators’ districts into Fulton County and thereby gives it a majority in the county’s legislative delegation.

With that majority, Republicans say they will curtail Fulton County’s powers. But that won’t be in time to save Cauley Creek, which will close in a matter of days as it is shut down.

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