Wastewater go-ahead could be forthcoming

LAWRENCEVILLE - Final permission for Gwinnett County to discharge treated wastewater into Lake Lanier could come in the next couple of months, if a draft environmental assessment passes muster.

"If we can get this completed in the proper time, it means we'll have water," Chairman Charles Bannister said. "It means everything to Gwinnett. It means the future. It's that important."

While the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's permit to allow the discharge is in place after five years of court battles, the county still needs permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a pipeline through Corps property.

The agency has released a draft environmental assessment, available for public comment until April 13.

"If we get no adverse comments, then they'll give us the easement and the permit," Jim Scarbrough of the Gwinnett Water Resources Department said. "I don't think the (construction) impacts are significant. After a growing season or two, you will hardly know we ever did it."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the man-made lake, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. About a mile of the nine-mile pipeline from the Buford-area F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center stretches into the water, Scarbrough said.

To help ensure the lake's viability during times of drought, the state asked Gwinnett to return its treated wastewater to the lake, the county's and much of metro Atlanta's source of drinking water.

But the permit was delayed for years by battles with neighbors hoping for more stringent treatment requirements. A compromise was reached last year.

An expansion of the Hill plant is already complete, and the EPD issued a permit to allow the county to send more wastewater to the Chattahoochee River until the $30 million pipeline to the lake could be built.

If the assessment is accepted, the county could have all the needed permission by this summer, and construction could begin in the fall, Scarbrough said.

The assessment is posted on the Web site, http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/pd/Pd1.htm. It is also available at Gwinnett County library branches in Duluth and Buford-Sugar Hill and at library headquarters in Lawrenceville.