Public hearing scheduled for Lanier permit

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's long battle for a permit to discharge treated wastewater into Lake Lanier could soon come to a resolution.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has scheduled a Sept. 21 hearing for residents to voice their concerns over the permit, which would allow up to 40 million gallons to be emitted into the north Georgia lake.

But the permit is a compromise between the county and the Lake Lanier Association, which entangled the original permit in court for more than four years.

The association of 1,700 homeowners, businesses, water users, dock owners and recreation users is expected to support the permit this time around.

"If it matches what our compromise is, we don't have a problem with it," said association president Jackie Joseph.

The previous permit was held up by the state Supreme Court, ruled:

•the EPD should have asked for public comment again when it changed the depth for the diffuser in the lake

•Gwinnett's sewage treatment capabilities are better than the standards in the permit, so the permit's standards should be set higher.

Gwinnett Water Resources Director Frank Stephens said the state-of-art F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center can treat to a high standard, but the proposed new permit would mean the county has less of a "safety cushion" for meeting the standards.

For example, the phosphorus limit is set in the draft permit at 0.08 parts per million, but the plant has twice averaged monthly phosphorus levels of 0.09.

Stephens said he was certain the county could live up to the standard, though, and Joseph said the strict permit standards will mean a lot when jurisdictions in Gainesville and Cumming apply to discharge into the lake.

"We don't have a standard by which to go," currently, she said. "If the Gwinnett permit is an official document ... we can hold the EPD's feet to the fire" for the others.

In a report written by the association for a congressional hearing on lake management earlier this month, officials called on the EPD to issue Gwinnett the sewage discharge permit.

"Sewage discharges are necessary for sustained Georgia growth. However, the sewage discharge must be as clean as possible through treatment processes," the report reads. "EPD should direct that all future Lake Lanier sewage discharges must be at least as clean and deep as the Gwinnett permit request."

Stephens said the EPD process always includes public comment, but the agency is not required to hold a public hearing. He said the county encouraged the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

Stephens said the EPD could issue a permit within a week or two of the close of the public comment period, which ends Sept. 28, according to a legal advertisement in Thursday's Gwinnett Daily Post.

After a 30-day appeal period, the county could begin the $50 million construction of a 9-mile pipeline to carry the sewage from the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center to the lake. That construction could take two years.

In the meantime, the county received a temporary permit to allow additional discharges into the Chattahoochee River until the Lanier project is complete.