Saturday, June 14, 2008

Milton Sees Septic Tanks A Defense For Rural Charm


Milton enjoys a quality of life that many might envy.The north Fulton community features winding, tree-lined roads dotted with estate homes and horse farms, good schools and a sense of sanctuary.

Many Milton residents are determined to protect the rural charm. They share a deep-seated fear of being steam-rolled by those well-known country killers: high-density housing, strip malls, industrial parks and the like.Some believe they have a secret weapon in a war that many others have fought — and lost — in metro Atlanta. Septic tanks.

Despite concerns that septic tanks can cause environmental problems if they're not maintained, many residents see them as a way to keep the bulldozers at bay."Sewer brings density, and density will ruin Milton," said Ferrall Sumrell, who has lived there since 1994. "If you look at any area with sewer, you'll see increased density. Septic tanks will keep Milton from being overdeveloped."Sumrell has plenty of support. An anti-sewer petition last year in Milton quickly garnered about 560 signatures.

Many comments had a similar tone.

"Completely against this [sewer] ... Growth must stop," wrote Courtney Hensley.
"I DO NOT want sewers in Milton," commented Dolores Marshall. "The developers have done enough damage already. Let's keep our beautiful city beautiful."

The City Council is faced with conflicting pressures. The cash-strapped city could use taxes from more sewer-connected commercial property, but that must be balanced with the desire to preserve Milton's agrarian flavor. In the next month or two, the council is expected to directly address the sewer/septic debate and formulate an official policy.

'Linchpin issue'

Milton, located in the northernmost corner of Fulton County, has 20,000 mostly affluent residents. (The average house on the market in Milton lists for about $800,000.) Only about 10 to 15 percent of the city is connected to sewer.

Septic tanks generally require at least an acre of land for the drainfield and a replacement drainfield, which precludes intensive development, said City Councilwoman Julie Zahner Bailey, the leading advocate against sewer.

The community's no-sewer stance is not new. As the area developed, its residents pressured Fulton County to keep sewer out in order to maintain its country atmosphere. Now, the city is only about 35 to 45 percent developed, and residents still revel in the rural feel of the area.
Tom Wilson, Milton's former director of community development, estimated that only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the city is connected to sewer. Up to now, the City Council has consistently opposed any requests for sewer expansion for others to hook on to – including one from a man whose property is surrounded by sewer.

Dennis Potts owns 8.5 acres in southeast Milton, and he has sewer within 300 yards of his property. At this point he wants to de-annex into Alpharetta. He wants to join with a piece of property in Alpharetta that has sewer. He can't get sewer for his commercially zoned property in Milton."I've had it sold three times, but the deal fell through because I couldn't get sewer," he said. "This is an idea they all have had since Day One, about what they think they can make Milton into. They've got everything shut down."As a strategy, it may be working, Potts said.
"People in the development community are starting to say, 'You don't want to invest in Milton because you can't get sewer.' If you can't get sewer, you can't develop."

Newly hired City Manager Billy Beckett has learned in a hurry how important the sewer vs. septic debate is in Milton."It is a linchpin issue," he said. "We need to resolve this, so we can move on to other issues. It's almost a daily topic of conversation. Sometimes, we spend hours devoted to it."

The sewer-septic issue was the key issue in the last election. Candidates tagged as "pro-sewer" were defeated.

Water supply, quality

Milton's strategy runs counter to what other cities and counties are doing. Gwinnett, Forsyth and Douglas counties, for example, are trying to ensure that new development is on sewer.
Forsyth County Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse said the county wants to minimize the use of septic tanks as much as possible. He estimates that over the past four years, 90 percent of all rezoned residential property has been tied to sewer."With septic tanks you lose the water," Laughinghouse said. "With sewer, you collect it, process it, treat it and discharge it back to the source. In theory, you have zero water loss. With water in short supply, we're going to need every drop we can get."

Forsyth's position is consistent with state and federal studies that have determined that septic tanks are to some degree, a "consumptive use," meaning water is used and then lost in the soil.
The federal and state environmental agencies say that septic tanks are a viable alternative if they are properly sited, installed and maintained. But critics say septic tanks can pollute groundwater and often are not maintained.

Gwinnett County Water Resource Program Specialist Frank Stephens said Gwinnett also is concerned about pollution from septic tanks. He said septic tanks often are not maintained, with nasty results. Many people don't even know they're on septic tanks until they fail, he said.
"When septic tanks aren't properly maintained, and, according to the literature, many aren't maintained, bad stuff goes in the groundwater," Stephens said. "If you have enough failing septic tanks concentrated in a limited area, it's really bad for the environment."

Supporters of the no-sewer-expansion policy point out that sewer systems also fail sometimes and in larger volume. And, they argue, growth from sewer would bring more people, more water consumption and more storm water runoff.

Many Milton residents don't care if other places are trying to limit septic tanks."Keep Milton uncomplicated. If you want a sewer connect, move to Roswell or Alpharetta," wrote Matthew West, who said he's lived in all three cities.


Anonymous said...

"The cash-strapped city could use taxes from.......

Not trying to be negative, but if we are cash strapped, may be one mell of a hess down the pot hole road(s).

Anonymous said...

Sewer should be in commercial areas, and septic can stay in AG1 areas.

Anonymous said...

Gee 560 signatures.BFD

The problem is when Milton elected neighborhood activist to city council, their "cause" became a self proclaimed mandate from the people to stop development.

The city is going to be facing law suit after law suit about this issue and is going to lose.

We need some leadership and balance in City Council not the same ole "no sewer"rhetoric.

no growth = bankrupt city

Anonymous said...

Ahmen to 3:52am!! 560 signatures...?

I guess they went through Crooked Creek and White Columns for the signatures. I just love the following mentatlity:

"I moved here for the rural charm" (and live in a huge neighborhood) and don't want anymore growth after I finish my pool, pool house, outbuilding, fire pit, oversized patio, etc.

Anonymous said...

My name is Chelsea and I am a journalist with a magazine called the Septic Biz. We cater to the septic system industry. I am thinking of doing a story on the idea behind this blog and the city of Milton. If anyone is interesting in assisting me with some information/quotes and lives in Milton, please email me at Thank you!

Anonymous said...

All we hear is how commercial is needed to help with the tax base. I fail to see how commercial helps. Please show me an example of any area that has a large base of commercial, including offices and industry that also has lower taxes. I see just the opposite. Cherokee and Forsyth have the lowest taxes in the metro area and are low in their base of commercial, although that is rapidly changing in Forsyth.

Anonymous said...

If your worried about high taxes do your research on Sewer. Not only is sewer a huge expense it also pollutes far more than septic ever could. In the metro area millions of gallons of RAW SEWERAGE ARE DUMPED INTO OUR WATERSHED EVERY YEAR.

They claim that septic pollutes and then turn around and say septic is consumptive - WHICH IS IT? If it does not return the water - how can it pollute?

EPD is NO HELP - they are politically motivated with Georgia's motto of growth at any cost. Milton needs to fight for their no sewer policy. There needs to be some places in the sewer of Metro Atlanta, for people to live that care about quality of life.

Anonymous said...

Once again, We need balance in Milton.Some sewer for commercial growth and septic of single family homes.

But both septic and sewer need to be maintained.

One of the reason Atlanta has sewer problems is they haven't been properly maintained or enlarged in decades. Lenox Rd. and Peachtree Rd area is prime example. Take a residential rd. like Lenox, add a few million condos and leave the same sewer system that was designed and built to handle less than 3oo single family homes.

Atlanta still has some ancient brick line storm water sewers that have troughs in the bottom for sanitary waste-now theres a great way to polute water ways

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