Update: Fulton Breaks Cauley Creek Contract
Johns Creek residents concerned with ramifications of ending contract with Cauley Creek wastewater reuse plant.
Update, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2:45 p.m.:
The Fulton Commission voted 5-2 to terminate the Cauley Creek water reuse contract, with Commissioner Liz Hausmann and Commission Chair John Eaves dissenting.
Liz Hausmann, who represents Johns Creek, Alpharetta and Milton on the county commission, had asked for a substitute motion to have the county manager work with the Georgia EPD and other stakeholders in an ad hoc committee to come up with a detailed plan of action and a schedule.
"We owe it to Cauley Creek and our community to make sure we are making a good choice," she said, citing questions such as why would Fulton give up capacity, what is the environmental and economic impacts and why would Fulton walk away from a successful water reuse program with no plan to replace it.
Commission Chairman John Eaves said he supported Hausmann’s substitue motion, which would defer cancellation of the contract. There are “still a lot of unanswered questions,” he said, adding that the substitute motion would have provided an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together.
Commissoners Bill Edwards and Tom Lowe countered Hausmann by saying that breaking the contract would save taxpayer money, and that the Cauley Creek facility was always meant to be temporary based on the construction of the Johns Creek Environmental Campus.
County Finance Director Patrick O’Connor said he supported canceling the contract, which has a yearly cancellation cause in it. He said that the measure would save the county $6 million a year, saving water customers about $85 a year. He also said that the Johns Creek Environmental Campus is currently operating at less than 25 percent utilization; no one’s irrigation water supply would be shut off; and that Cauley Creek customers would continue to be charged the same rate.
Update, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 11:55 a.m.:
A parade of Johns Creek officials and representatives spoke up at the Fulton County Commission meeting today, Wednesday, Sept. 19, to implore the commission to defer a vote on terminating the Cauley Creek reuse water contract. Treated resuse water from the plant provides some 30,000 customers in the johns Creek area with irrigation water at a reduced cost (see original story below).
Johns Creek City Council member Kelly Stewart asked the commission to defer today’s vote. “I respectfully request that you defer the matter for one year in order for all studies to be completed, she said. “All stakeholders deserve . . . to understand what Fulton County’s purported savings will cost them, and no one knows that.”
She added that Fulton County is the only body that has shown interest in canceling the contract. “Fulton County has not completed its due diligence,” Stewart said.
The North Fulton Chamber’s Bernie Tokarz also addressed the commission. “To give up capacity is both short-sighted and limits our ability to realize future growth,” he said. Tokarz said he was concerned with the county not following due process with the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Metro Water Planning Board and the Georgia EPD, which might impede the county’s ability to receive federal and state water grants.
"This process really has caught us quite off guard,” said Bob Bolling, a member of the Johns Creek United Methodist Church, pointing to the $3,000 of water to maintain the church’s expansive athletic fields each month and how that price may double if the church’s reuse supply is cut off. A representative with Perimeter Church echoed those concerns, saying that the church may have to cut funding to outreach programs and raise rates for summer camps if the reuse water contract is terminated.
Representatives from area golf courses and country clubs, including St. Ives, River Pines, Atlanta Athletic Club, Country Club of the South and the Standard Club also voiced concerns.
“Without water my facility goes away, it dies,” said Roger Miers, owner/operator of River Pines public golf course in Johns Creek. We’re “dependent on a lifeblood called reuse water.”
The Standard Club’s Mike Brown said his golf course has no other source of water for irrigation and that the Standard Club was told it would have access to the water for the 20-year length of the contract and beyond. An attorney with Country Club of the South went on to say that legal action would be taken if the county votes to terminate the contract.
Tyson Yates, managing director of GE Capital, a 90 percent equity owner of Cauley Creek, said that in the 13 years he has worked at GE, he had never been treated “by a partner the way we’ve been treated recently by Fulton County.”
He echoed the request to defer the vote, saying his company would be “interested in finding a way to amend the contract . . . to benefit the county and protect our investment.”
Patch will update this story once the Fulton County Commission votes on this issue.
Original story, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 5:45 p.m.:
A Fulton County Commission agenda item proposing the termination of a contract with a private wastewater treatment facility in Johns Creek has drawn the concern of some residents.
In 2001 the county entered an agreement with Cauley Creek Water Reclamation Facility, located on Bell Road in Johns Creek, to treat wastewater and deliver it to area golf clubs, churches, neighborhoods and businesses to use for irrigation.
Fulton entered the 20-year contract with Cauley Creek when the county's existing wastewater treatment could not keep up with population growth in North Fulton. Use of treated wastewater from the Cauley Creek plant lessened demand on the Chattahoochee River as well as the county's drinking water supply.
The county's agenda item regarding breaking the Cauley Creek contract states that its Johns Creek Environmental Campus (JCEC) on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell, built in 2009, will be able to treat wastewater at a lower cost. The agenda item states that it is currently paying Cauley Creek $7 million per year, but treating the same amount of water itself at the JCEC would cost $1 million a year. The county would have to pay Cauley Creek $13 million to end the contract. The termination would be effective Jan. 1, 2013.
However, the JCEC is not set up to deliver reuse water for irrigation, and Fulton County does not have a plan for providing reuse water again, leading some Johns Creek officials to express concern over the contract's potential termination.
Johns Creek United Methodist Church sent out an email blast on Monday asking its members to attend the commission meeting Tuesday morning to urge commissioners to vote against the measure, as the church estimates that ending the contract could potentially increase the church's potable water use by 1,000 percent.
Church administrator Gene Ray told Patch that Johns Creek United Methodist pays 65 cents per 1,000 gallons for irrigation water delivered by Cauley Creek; whereas the fee for potable water is around $3 per gallon. He said that county staff is expected to propose that the county continue to charge the church the original fee, but he finds that problematic as it sets up different rate schedules for different customers.
Johns Creek City Council member Kelly Stewart has also expressed concern and plans to attend the meeting to ask commissioners to defer the vote.
Stewart said that Fulton County claims terminating the contract will save taxpayer money and prevent a water rate increase. "My concern is that they are considering this with great haste and have not sat back and evaluated what their savings will cost everybody else," she told Patch.
Stewart sent a letter voicing her concerns to the commission, which accompanies this article as a PDF file. The letter states in part that Stewart would like to see the matter deferred "until all parties have been provided with the short and long term impact of this decision, all studies have been completed, and the economic impact for all stakeholders has been evaluated."
Likewise, North Fulton's representative on the commission, Liz Hausmann, has voiced concern over ending the Cauley Creek contract. A Johns Creek resident, Hausmann sent an email blast to her constituents, stating, "With the termination of the Cauley Creek facility, reuse water for irrigation will no longer be available to the over 30,000 customers that currently use this reuse water. . . .The domino effect of not having top rated golf facilities or church properties is not to be trivialized."
Hausmann's full letter to constituents can be found on her website, which goes on to explain that letters opposing the contract termination have been received from Johns Creek's mayor and city council, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Perimeter Church, Johns Creek Methodist Church, Atlanta Athletic Club, St. Ives, River Pines Golf Course, Country Club of the South and the Standard Club as well as hundreds of citizens.
The commission meets Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m. in the Fulton County Government Assembly Hall, 141 Pryor St. SW, Atlanta. The meeting can be viewed live online.
Patch will update this story as more information becomes available.