HAMILTON, Ga. — Developers of The Grove, a planned mixed-use community off Interstate 185 and Ga. 315 in southwest Harris County, want to proceed with the project within two years, Harris County Manager Danny Bridges said Tuesday.
But first, Mulberry Grove Development Co. wants Harris County to move forward with its commitment to run a sewer line from the project site south to tie into a Columbus Water Works sewer line at the Harris-Muscogee county line, Bridges told Harris County commissioners during a work session.
In their regular meeting, commissioners directed Bridges to contact Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith to see whether the DOT would allow Harris County to install the line along I-185 right of way — the shortest of two possible routes. The other choice is to run the line up Smith and Fortson roads, a longer route.
If the DOT approves use of the right of way, then engineers will have to determine whether the route is practical. That decision will be based on how much rock would have to be removed to install the pipe; Bridges said rock removal is likely on either route.
Cost estimates to install the pipe are below $5 million for each route, Bridges said. After deciding on a route, he said, the next steps are to have the engineering work done and to search for the best means of financing it, which possibly could be done through a Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority low-interest loan or issuing revenue bonds.
Bridges said The Grove developers, out of Columbus, have agreed to pay Harris County $200,000 a year for seven years, or $1.4 million, to offset the annual interest payments. If that amount is not sufficient, the county can create a special tax district that applies only to the project land to generate more revenue.
Commissioner Joe Manning asked for the timetable on the sewer installation project.
“Twenty-four months to get everything in the ground,” Bridges answered.
“Everybody I talk to says next year will be worse than this year (economically),” Manning said. “It’s foolish to start on a project until we can get a return on what we buy.”
“They are basically guaranteeing what we are doing,” Bridges said. “They guarantee payment of the bonds.”
“GM went broke and big banks went broke,” Manning said.
Bridges said if everything else fails, the tax could be tacked on to the property tax bills for the project land, saying the land is worth $5 million.
“I think it’s worth $10 million-$15 million,” commissioner Charles Wyatt said.
“I think everybody agrees the project will happen and the land will stand for the funds,” Manning said. “I don’t see doing this for nothing. The housing market has a long way to go.”
The matter was tabled until the Aug. 18 meeting to give Bridges time to secure an answer from the DOT about using the I-185 right of way.