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08/23/01 - Infrastructure - Water, Transportation, ARC & the Governor

 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Board OKs funds for water study
But battle looms over road projects
John McCosh - Staff
Thursday, August 23, 2001

Metro Atlanta officials bristling at directives from the office of Gov. Roy Barnes gave the green light Wednesday to funding regional water cleanup studies.

But some of the same regional elected officials indicated a battle still looms over the governor's five-year plan to speed up $.2 billion worth of transportation projects around Atlanta, the metro area's part of an $.3 billion statewide plan.

The region's three-year transportation plan is set to come to a vote at next month's Atlanta Regional Commission board meeting. Engineering for the projects Barnes wants to move up by borrowing against future federal funding will begin to appear in the plan if the ARC goes along with the governor at its September meeting.

But if approval of the plan drags into the fall, DOT officials have said, federal money targeted for metro Atlanta transportation projects could be diverted to other parts of Georgia.

Several members of ARC's board said they're afraid that by moving up the transit-oriented projects the governor prefers, such as HOV lane construction and commuter trains, road projects planned to open in five to 10 years will be pushed back.

"I can't vote next month unless someone can tell me my projects won't get moved," said Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray.

Joselyn Butler, a spokeswoman for Barnes' office, said the fears of local officials are unfounded.

"Nothing is being pushed back, everything is being pushed up," she said.

The sailing was smoother for Barnes on the water issue. Members of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, another of his initiatives, voted to raise $.2 million to study metro Atlanta's water pollution.

Each of the district's 16 counties will be taxed at an annual rate of 80 cents per person for at least two years. The 2001 Legislature committed to add another $ million to the effort.

Wednesday's vote came after a summer of squabbling among the district's 29 board members that mostly pitted officials from counties on the suburban fringe against the "Big Five" of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Representatives from the more rural counties complain that pollution problems are created by the more urban jurisdictions, which should be required to pay a greater share of the expected multi-billion-dollar cleanup cost.

But they approved the tax plan after a not-so-gentle nudge from the state's top environmental official, who reminded the board that the state can make it difficult for local jurisdictions to get water and sewer permits.

"If there is some local government that wants to stand in the way, then I'm going to be disinclined to help them," said Harold Reheis, head of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division. "It's good to have EPD to help you get your permits."

Now county officials who sit on the district's board will need to convince their commissions to go along with the new tax, which some predict will be a tough sell.


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