$54 million decision: Fulton won’t buy Johns Creek treatment plant

After months of study and behind-the-scenes politicking, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday decided they’re not interested in buying a Johns Creek sewage treatment plant.

By a unanimous vote, commissioners accepted County Manager Dick Anderson’s recommendation that the county not buy the Cauley Creek treatment plant to provide sewer service in north Fulton. Consultant Burns & McDonnell found that buying Cauley Creek would cost the county an extra $54.3 million over the next 20 years.

The commission’s decision came despite a last-minute plea from Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker to study the issue more.

Anderson's recommendation was based on a report by the consultant that concluded Fulton County doesn't need Cauley Creek to meet sewage treatment needs in the northern part of the county.

In a letter to county commissioners Tuesday, Bodker said the consultant’s findings are flawed. He urged commissioners to hire another consultant to study the issue.

County commissioners were not persuaded.

“Obviously, there are politics in everything we do. We are a political body. But, in my opinion, we have to take the professional advice of our staff,” said Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who represents Johns Creek.

Wednesday’s decision is the latest twists in a long debate over the fate of the treatment plant.

Cauley Creek treated Fulton County sewage for years, converting it to non-drinkable irrigation water for golf courses, churches and other customers. But the plant closed in 2012 after the county ended its contract.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this year that plant owner Ron Green and his allies lobbied hard to keep the plant open in 2012. That lobbying effort touched not only the county, but a regional water board, the state Environmental Protection Division and the governor's office.

The effort was not successful. But this year Green has employed former state House Speaker Mark Burkhalter, former County Commission Chairman Mike Kenn and others to convince Fulton officials to reopen the plant. That led Anderson to seek the consultant's opinion.

Last month, the political dynamics of the issue changed again when the Johns Creek City Council voted unanimously to buy the plant and surrounding property for a future park. Under the tentative deal, Green would get half the proceeds if Johns Creek sells the plant over the next five years.

Anderson argued the city’s plea for another study should be treated with skepticism because it became an interested party when it agreed to buy the plant. At recent meetings, he urged commissioners to accept his sewer plan, though they twice postponed action. On Wednesday, they finally agreed with Anderson.

“There have been a lot of politics involved in this particular matter,” Commissioner Bob Ellis said. “I think it’s very important that our manager has acted in a very nonpolitical way. He’s played it straight up the road.”

Green referred comment to Bodker. The mayor could not be reached.