Madison County’s industrial authority has worked in recent years to form water links with other northeast Georgia counties.
Local leaders say that establishing regional connections is the best way to bring industry to the county and to protect the county from severe droughts in years to come.
But not all area officials are excited about such plans.
Last week, Toccoa city commissioners revoked a letter of support for a proposed multi-million dollar, state-funded project to connect area water systems. Toccoa leaders met with engineer Chris Quigley to discuss the plans. Quigley was hired by Madison and Elbert county officials, who seek $10 million from the Governor’s Water Supply Program to connect water systems in five northeast Georgia counties: Madison, Elbert, Stephens, Franklin and Oglethorpe.
Charlie Bauder of WNEG Radio in Toccoa reported May 23 that Toccoa’s mayor David Austin signed a letter of support for the project on behalf of the city. But city commissioner Terry Carter said he felt the commission should have discussed the letter before it was signed. Carter said Toccoa’s water should benefit economic growth in Toccoa, not in Madison or Oglethorpe counties.
“I do not have a problem selling to Franklin County and Habersham County,” said Carter. “Our people can drive there to work if they had to. I have a problem providing water all the way down to Madison and Oglethorpe. I do not want to ship our resources that far south when we need it to attract industry, the same type of industry Madison and Oglethorpe (counties) are trying to attract.”
Bauder reported that Toccoa has access to nine million gallons of water a day and is using three million gallons daily.
The WNEG report stated that Mayor Austin is concerned that if Toccoa does not explore other options for selling water, the state will begin to question Toccoa’s need for that much capacity.
Quigley said he thought the Toccoa commission would be interested in selling water to its southern neighbors.
“We went out trying to create win-wins for folks,” said Quigley. “We thought this project is a big win-win.”
Following the talks, the Toccoa commissioners unanimously voted to revoke the letter of support for the regional project.
But industrial development authority (IDA) executive director Marvin White said this week that he doesn’t feel the rejection by Toccoa leaders will have a bearing on the state’s decision on the proposed regional connections.
He said connecting the counties is a good long-term plan — a way to bring business to the area and to provide some protection against devastating droughts that could come years from now.
In recent years, the IDA has established connections to the west with Commerce and north with Franklin County. Now the IDA aims to connect water lines to the east. Therefore, the primary aim of the IDA with the current proposal has nothing to do with Toccoa. Instead, both Elbert and Madison County officials are seeking funds to run a line down Hwy. 72 from Elbert County to Madico Industrial Park at Hwy. 172 and Hwy. 98, a project that White hopes will attract more industry to the county’s industrial areas.
He said he doesn’t see the Toccoa vote impacting the state’s decision on the Madison/Elbert plan.
“I don’t think it will have any impact on the project,” said White, who noted the county already has a connection to the north. “And we’re already purchasing water through Franklin County and they can sell to Banks County or Madison County or whoever.”
White added that Elbert County, Elberton city officials, Oglethorpe County, Madison County and Franklin County officials have signed the letter supporting regional connections. He said local state representatives are also in favor of counties connecting their systems.
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