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Transportation, water issues face hurdles in 2012

DULUTH -- Metro Atlanta's fate could take a dramatic swing in just a few weeks in the summer of 2012, noted Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's Demming Bass.

The long-awaited ruling of a judge in the state's water wars with Alabama and Florida will come just weeks before voters go to the polls to consider a 1-cent sales tax to raise billions for transportation.

"We are going to know the trajectory of our region," Bass said. "If we solve the water issue and we pass the transportation referendum, then the sky is the limit."

Members of the Chamber were updated on those critical issues Wednesday with a speech from Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Tad Leithead.

With the judge threatening to restrict Atlanta's consumption of water from Lake Lanier, Leithead said water is the biggest issue facing the area, and with the governors of all three states reaching the end of their terms, the potential for a compromise is waning.

"It's real, and it will be the No. 1 thing impacting our growth in the long term," Leithead said.

The proposed regional transportation sales tax, he added, will help close the gap in a $160 billion in transportation needs. But he said it only gets officials 10 percent closer to their goal, and transit issues also have to be addressed.

Asked after his lunch hour speech about the recent resignation of Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charles Bannister, Leithead said he would name a replacement to the ARC board's vice-chairmanship, a position Bannister also vacated, in a matter of weeks.

"Charles was a great vice chair," he said. "He always looked out for the best interests of Gwinnett, but was a regional thinker."

Leithead said he expects Gwinnett's vice-chair Shirley Lasseter to continue to represent the government on the ARC board, which also includes local mayors and citizen representatives.

In the long run, though, he said Gwinnett's interests will continue to be a priority of the board despite the resignation.

"We simply could not develop a regional plan without Gwinnett's needs being met," he said. "You don't lose leverage or power or control."