EPD delays Water Wise
Condemnation hearing set Fri.
BY ANGELA GARY
The private firm looking to build a sewer system in Jackson County
has hit another roadblock - for now.
At a meeting with officials from the Georgia Environmental Protection
Division last Thursday, Water Wise, Inc. squared off against
a unified county leadership to debate whether the permit for
the old Texfi waste water facility on Hwy. 11 in Jefferson should
be transferred to the firm. State officials declined to transfer
the permit to Water Wise until other issues related to the facility
Meanwhile, a condemnation hearing set last week on the matter
was postponed until 9:30 a.m. Friday in the courthouse. It will
continue Monday in the State Courtroom in the Administrative
The county condemned the old Texfi plant from Water Wise after
realizing that if Water Wise did get a state EPD permit, a loophole
in state law would allow it to have the power of condemnation
in the county. County officials said they don't want a private
firm to direct the county's future growth by having such unregulated
authority. County leaders said they are now committed to providing
sewer services in some unincorporated areas of Jackson County,
primarily for commercial and industrial development.
EPD director Harold Reheis said he went into Thursday's meeting
with the intent of transferring Water Wise a permit for the old
Texfi waste water facility in Jefferson, but he apparently changed
his mind after hearing from members of the Jackson County Board
of Commissioners, the Jefferson City Council and the Jackson
County Water and Sewage Authority. Reheis compared the situation
to a "hornet's nest that has gotten stirred up."
"Going into the meeting, I had thought the law says that
I had to transfer the permit (from Texfi to Water Wise),"
he said. "...The EPD is reluctant to go out into an area
where a hornet's nest is still brewing."
Reheis said one of the first issues to be resolved before a decision
is reached on the permit is who owns the Texfi sewerage plant
in Jefferson. At the meeting, Water Wise owner Jerry Wickliffe
said that he owns the facility. However, Pendergrass filed a
motion earlier in the Jackson County courthouse claiming it owns
the facility by virtue of a trust indenture signed with Water
Wise. And an attorney for the Jackson County BOC said the county
owns the plant by virtue of its condemnation process.
"That issue has got to be resolved before we can do this
right," Reheis said of the confusion over who has proper
control of the plant.
More than 30 Jackson County and Jefferson officials, along with
Sen. Eddie Madden, attended the hearing in Atlanta. BOC chairman
Jerry Waddell said a private sewage operation would not be in
the best interest of the county.
"We think Jackson County needs to be in charge and control
our own destiny," he told Reheis.
Gainesville attorney Julius Hulsey, along with other county and
city officials, also asked the EPD to deny transferring the permit
to Water Wise.
Pendergrass mayor Mark Tolbert, attorneys Walter Harvey and Chris
Elrod and Wycliffe asked that the permit be issued. Wycliffe
said his company would only provide sewage service to areas zoned
"We don't want to control growth in Jackson County,"
he said. "We just want to offer sewage in areas zoned for
Reheis also said that he wants to review House Bill 489 before
taking any action on the permit request. Jackson County and Jefferson
leaders said that allowing Pendergrass to take over the Texfi
facility would violate HB 489.
"If by transferring a permit, I would be breaking another
state law, I don't want to do it," Reheis said.
Hulsey said: "It (giving Water Wise the permit) totally
does away with the agreement under HB 489 that Pendergrass signed
off on. They say tongue and cheek that they're not interested
in controlling growth but everyone knows that if you put lines
in, that's where the growth goes. Water and sewer control where
But Elrod said it is not a duplication of services because Jackson
County doesn't provide sewage service.
"I challenge anyone to tell me it is a duplication of services
when Jackson County doesn't even have sewage," he said.
Reheis asked everyone involved in the matter to work further
on a solution before asking the EPD to issue the permit.
"You need to work among yourselves to come up with a win-win
solution," he said. "...I would encourage everyone
here to try one more time, to take a cooling off period and then
see if there is a middle ground. Try one more time instead of
letting the EPD sort all this out. We would like to see peace."
In the meantime, Reheis said the EPD would review all documents
submitted Thursday by the county on the matter. He also told
Water Wise officials they could submit any relevant materials.
Jefferson sewer capacity
Expanding spray field an option, but cost could run to $300,000
Growth in Jefferson may soon come to a screeching halt unless
the city can find a way to expand its in-town sewer capacity.
That problem came to a head Monday night as the Jefferson City
Council considered a rezoning request for a 160-home subdivision
along Peachtree Road. The project would be an extension of Peachtree
Estates and is proposed to have 20,000-square-foot lots and homes
of 1,000 square feet.
But the council tabled action on the matter after learning that
the city's in-town sewer capacity was almost used up. With the
town's old oxidation pond and one spray field, the total daily
capacity available is 330,000 gallons. But already 287,000 gallons
per day is being used and the city has committed to take another
23,000 per day from the west side of town, a commitment that
includes Jackson County Comprehensive High School. In addition,
the town is committed to take Phase 3 of Holder's Mill subdivision
along Holder Siding Road with some 43 lots planned.
"We cannot accept this (the proposed subdivision) until
we install the other two spray fields," said councilman
Jack Seabolt. Seabolt later said he believed the city needs a
subdivision moratorium until the sewer issue can be resolved.
The city does have room to expand its spray field and is permitted
up to 800,000 gallons per day. But the cost of building a second
spray field is estimated to be around $300,000. In addition,
city leaders said the Peachtree Road project might also require
a lift station to the tune of $160,000.
Real estate agent Ron Bond, who spoke on behalf of developer
Hugh McGinnis, said he was "surprised" by the information
about the limited sewer capacity.
"We've done everything we know to do," he said.
Bond also alluded to remarks last week at a Jackson County Area
Chamber of Commerce meeting that the county needed more low cost
affordable housing to lure residents away from mobile homes.
"I wish we could work something out," said council
member Marcia Moon, whose ward covers the Peachtree Road area.
"This would bring something nice to our area. It would be
an improvement to the community."
The sewer limitations do not affect the I-85 area of Jefferson
which uses a different spray field than that used in the downtown
In other business, the Jefferson council:
·approved instructing beer and wine merchants that city
ordinances do not require them to sack such beverages unless
asked to do so by a customer.
·approved allowing Gene Yearwood to erect flags and cross
across from city all on Memorial Day next year.
·approved a four-way stop at the intersection of Elder
Drive, Martin Street, Deerwood Lane and Westmoreland Drive.
·agreed to increase Larry Embrick's pay scale to the next
·approved insurance benefits for city employees who retire
with 30 years of service or at age 62 with at least least 15
years of service.