Stephens Co. Commission Rescinds Letter of Support for Water Project

Stephens County Commissioners revoke their support for a proposed multi-million dollar project to interconnect area water systems.

Madison and Elbert County officials want $10 million in state grant funds from the Governor’s Water Supply Program to interconnect water systems in five northeast Georgia counties, Stephens, Franklin, Madison, Elbert, and Oglethorpe.

Last month, Stephens County Commissioners signed a letter of support for the project after first voting against it. The change in the vote came after Toccoa Mayor David Austin told county commissioners the city had also issued a letter of support.

However, Toccoa City Commissioners had never discussed that letter and after talking about it last week, city commissioners voted to revoke Toccoa’s letter of support.

The letter came back up at Tuesday’s Stephens County Commission meeting.

Stephens County Commissioner Dennis Bell said he believes it was fed to the county under false pretenses.

“Before we signed this, we got told that the city looked at it and I think we all took that (to mean) all the city commissioners had looked at it and approved it,” said Bell. “That is what happens when you assume.”

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Debbie Whitlock said she feels there is more to the project than the county was initially told.

“It just was not very honest,” said Whitlock. “Basically they are running out of water and want our water. That is what I read out of this.”

County Commission Chairman Stanley London said he is also curious as to the need for the infrastructure at this time.

“I think the comment that was brought to us was that this does not bind anybody to an agreement, it was just to build the infrastructure,” said London. “Why spend that investment on building infrastructure if there was not an exact need?”

However, Stephens County Commissioner Dean Scarborough pointed out that it is not Toccoa’s water in the sense that the state grants the city a permit to withdraw it.

Scarborough said this project stems from a water plan that grew out of regional studies implemented under the tenure of former Governor Sonny Perdue to meet an entire region’s water needs for the long term.

“It (the plan) was to make it available that Georgia citizens could have access to drinking water,” said Scarborough. “Again, the city of Toccoa has a permit to withdraw a certain amount and they have excess. That permit could be reduced.”

Whitlock said Scarborough is right, adding that she is not opposing to helping other communities that have water needs.

However, she said that officials in Madison and Elbert counties should have approached this differently.

“I would be more inclined to support something if was brought to us more honestly and forthright,” said Whitlock, adding that elected officials from Madison and Elbert counties should have presented this and communicated with officials here, rather than sending only an engineer.

The vote was unanimous by the county commission to rescind the letter.