Water line agreement stirs passions at county meeting

What amounted to finalizing an agreement approved two years ago turned into an impassioned debate about future traffic concerns and procedural obligations at Thursday’s County Board of Commissioners meeting.
The agenda item seemed simple enough in itself, asking for approval of a standard utility agreement to move a county water line out of the right-of-way for State Route 54 as part of a Georgia Department of Transportation road widening project. Commissioners, voting along 3-2 lines at the time, approved the project at their February 12, 2015 meeting. Due to various delaying circumstances, including the county asking for a lower price, the county is just now being asked for final approval of the agreement.
Commissioner Steve Brown asked that the board not yet sign the agreement and instead wait for GDOT to respond to questions regarding another project to widen McDonough Road that would also affect traffic within Fayette. The projects, related to easing congestion coming off I-75 and Tara Blvd., would see an increased capacity along SR 920 (McDonough Rd.) in Clayton and Fayette.
“Volume chases capacity,” said Brown. “If you give people a simpler way to get from point A to B, they’re going to take that path.”
Brown warned that similar projects he’s seen have rarely worked out well.
“Any time I’ve seen this in metropolitan Atlanta, over a 50-year period, I have never seen it work. I have seen them kill off one road after another,” said Brown. “I’ve seen them ruin entire sections of communities by trying to spill off the capacity in one area through another, and it takes everything with it. It’s like a cancer.”
Brown asked that the board not sign the previously-approved agreement until the DOT tells them how they plan to help manage the added influx of traffic in Fayetteville.
Commissioner Charles Rousseau, while expressing shared concerned over the effect widening could have on local traffic, did not agree that now was the time to pick that fight, and warned against the tactic.
“We are signing something that this board said we would do. Take these two issues apart. Don’t mislead people,” said Rousseau, saying that the utility agreement does not pertain to a difference of opinion on traffic. “We mislead people when we do this kind of stuff. I’m not saying that’s anybody’s intentions, but it takes them down a road they don’t even need to be on.”
In 2015, the sitting board voted to approve the agreement, and going against it now would not be right, he said.
“We cannot pick and choose. Procedurally we are finalizing a vote,” said Rousseau. “This is procedurally inappropriate for us to intertwine an agreement duly adopted by this body and to cherry pick another issue because we see an opening. Conduct the business fairly. Do it with integrity. I’m very disappointed that this conversation has elevated to this level. This is a document that this body duly authorized. Go ahead and execute it.”
The choice was simple for Rousseau.
“This body ethically said that we would execute an agreement to move out of somebody’s right-of-way. Do it. Then bring it back for additional discussion (regarding traffic),” he said.
Brown stood firm that the agreement should not be signed because of potential repercussions from the SR 54 and McDonough Rd. widening projects.
“If both of these projects go through, this will be the year that we’ve kissed a significant part of what we’ve appreciated in the eastern half of Fayette County goodbye,” said Brown.
Rousseau urged separating the traffic issue and the moving of the water line.
“To mix those becomes a dangerous component. The vote we took was a separate vote to move the water lines out of the right-of-way. We’re charged with executing it now,” he said. “To me, the issue is we are fanning the passions about traffic and using an opportunity with an issue that has limited (relation).”
Commissioner Charles Oddo sided with Rousseau on the issue of keeping the board’s word.
“I look at this as an issue of the integrity of the board,” said Oddo. “If agreements cannot be relied upon, that speaks ill of us. That will cause us problems down the road.”
Oddo added that the road will be widened either way, and the county will be paying to move the water line whenever that happens. If they don’t sign the agreement now, the county risks being on the hook for a larger bill later.
“When they widen the road, we’re going to have to move our utilities,” he said. “Looking at it fiscally, this is the best deal we’re going to get for something we have to do.”
Brown’s motion to not sign the agreement failed 2-3, Brown and Ognio in favor, and Rousseau, Oddo, and Chairman Eric Maxwell in opposition.

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Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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