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Monday, September 15, 2008

Milton Looks For Sewer Showdown

By DOUG NURSE / http://www.ajc.com/

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Milton will take another stab at resolving the long festering conflict over sewer service in the city.

On Monday, the City Council will again take up the issue that has unseated incumbents, contributed largely to the resignation of a veteran city manager and dominated political discussion in this north Fulton community.

“I hope the odds are high we can settle this,” City Councilwoman Karen Thurman said. “There’s been a lot of legal expense surrounding this and an incredible amount of staff time resolving this. We need to figure out what our policy is and get moving.”

In Milton, limiting sewer has been used as a way to control growth. Some argue that sewer expansion brings density, which would ruin the country feel of the community. They say that allowing sewer service beyond where it is now would set a dangerous precedent that would haunt the city.

Others contend that such fears about sewer are unjustified for practical and financial reasons. They maintain that some sewer and commercial development in a narrowly defined area are needed for the tax revenue.

Waiting anxiously in the wings are several developers whose Milton projects are at a standstill until they are assured they can connect to county sewer. Some have indicated that if the situation isn’t settled soon, they will sue the city to force a resolution.

The primary point of contention is the definition of what constitutes extension of sewer service, said County Commissioner Lynne Riley. One camp maintains that any new sewer connections beyond those that currently exist is an extension of sewer. Others say sewer extension occurs only if sewer lines are run beyond the defined service area.

But the issue is muddied by indistinct service maps from the county, conflicting maps between the city and county, maps that conflict with the county’s sewer policies for the area and exceptions the County Commission made to its policies before the city was incorporated in 2006.
The sewer issue is so polarizing that two incumbents were voted out last year in part because they were deemed insufficiently anti-sewer. City Manager Billy Beckett, a veteran of 30 years of government management, tendered his resignation after five months on the job because of disputes with some council members, many of whom focused on sewer issues.

Monday’s meeting could settle the questions. The city attorney and planners worked last week to hash out yet another map to reconcile some of the conflicts.

“I think it could resolve 98 percent of the issues,” Councilman Bill Lusk said. “The city has had enough of this. Rather than complicate, delay, deny and extend the issue, it’s time to put it to rest.”

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