By Maggie West / D. Jefferson Bean / Beacon Media
Fulton County will get to open the sluices for sewer in south Milton, as the city and county end a four-year feud over sewer control in eight land lots. But Milton looks likely to continue the sewer-septic skirmish internally, as part of the great battle over business, rural character and green credentials.
Milton City Councilwoman Julie Zahner-Bailey, a vocal proponent of greening Milton via reuse and recycling, was against using the sewers. She got voted down last week and sent a negative analysis to her constituents. “The result of this motion and vote is that approximately 138 acres of land from Arnold Mill to Green Road to Crabapple Road to Freemanville to Mayfield is poised for sewer extension. These parcels were never intended for sewer as they are in the Etowah Basin.”
It’s not clear who “never intended” for the lots to be on the sewer. The sewers date from before Milton’s incorporation; since the city was formed, tenants of those lots have not been able to use them. Milton’s stance was septic, please. The city has used sewer limits as a tool to check growth and protect its self-proclaimed rural character.
But the North Fulton chapter of a nationwide environmental group suggests that sewer is the green choice.
“Our position is that if a neighborhood receives county or city water withdrawn from the nearby river or stream then the neighborhood should also be on sewer so that the wastewater can be treated and returned to the stream of origin,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, a Riverkeeper-affiliated nonprofit. “This is the best way to manage consumptive uses of our waterways."
Sewers lead to water treatment facilities and back into rivers. Septic tanks, by contrast, take water from rivers and don’t give back, which reduces flow. That, by the way, is one of Alabama and Florida’s water complaints against Georgia -- the Chattahoochee is too low when it reaches them.
But, as Zahner-Bailey noted, the parcels are in the Etowah Basin. Geography-wise, the city is more linked to Rome than Atlanta. So for Milton, the greenest consumptive use would be taking water from the Etowah and returning it there. But Milton’s watered by the Hooch. And moving water among basins -- known as interbasin transfer -- is inefficient.
Said Cook: “Likely, whatever sewer/septic division had little to do with watershed boundaries and more to do with the desires of local residents.”
So the Milton sewerage turns out part green, part not: the parcels take water from the Chattahoochee instead of the Etowah -- but at least the sewers will return the water to its source.
SEWERS MEAN MORE THAN YOU’D THINK
Managing consumptive uses of water is important to Councilman Bill Lusk, but so is economic development. And the sticklers for septic are driving him nuts. “Sanitary sewers are infrastructure facilities designed to ‘conserve, reuse and recycle’ our most precious resource – water,” he declared.
Septic is both earth-unfriendly and business-unfriendly, Lusk believes. Because septic limits development, he called it “hypocritical” to wave a “business-friendly” banner but oppose sewer.
In 2009, Lusk noted, some members of the community, like city council candidate Al Trevillyan, called on the city to create an economic development committee to work on filling up Milton’s vacant retail space.
“I offered then that we should review our policies and procedures for commercial development in this City to determine if we are in fact, business-friendly,” Lusk said.
“The minutes of our Council meetings for the past three and one half years are rife with examples of opponents on this Council to any type of expansion to commercial development.”
He fumed about the money spent on a four-year fight with Fulton over control of the eight parcels, which just ended in Milton’s total retreat. “We have seen our legal budget increase from $100,000 in 2007, to $200,000 this fiscal year … we have spent thousands of taxpayers’ money related to this topic. It is time to realize that the only beneficiary of fighting this needless battle called ‘sewer’ is the legal community. “
Lusk’s sentiments are echoed by Dennis Potts, a Milton business owner, “Developers all know not to try anything in Milton unless all their ducks are in a row. They’ll waste their money.”