The chair of the Atlanta Regional Commission, a downtown-based planning organization of leaders in the 10-county metro area, told the Buckhead Business Association water was the No. 1 topic among the group’s top three, which also include transportation and aging services.
“Lake Lanier is the smallest [water] basin supplying the largest population in the nation [metro Atlanta],” he said at the association’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead.
Leithead said more should be done to collect water.
“[Gov. Nathan] Deal’s water priorities are to conserve, capture and control,” the Roswell resident said. “You can’t conserve your way out of a drought. Fifty trillion gallons of water fall out of the sky in Georgia each year, and we capture only one trillion each year. If we could double that, it would be great.
“We have to build more reservoirs and they must be built north of here, since water goes north to south. Building a reservoir can be a 20-year process. Not only is it very expensive, but it takes a long time to get the permitting done through the environmental process.”
Leithead also said metro Atlanta residents should pay more attention to this year's drought, which has him concerned.
Regarding aging services, he said, “Today there are 750,000 people over 65 in metro Atlanta, and there will be 1.5 million that age in 10 years.”
With voters rejecting T-SPLOST, the state’s 1 percent, $8.5 billion tax to fund metro Atlanta transportation improvements, in the July 31 primary election, Leithead was asked by a reporter before the meeting if Plan B is for the state and each municipality to pitch in money to fund the projects T-SPLOST was going to finance, including the Interstate 285-Ga. 400 interchange.
“I think in a word, yes,” he said. “The referendum would have infused another $8.5 billion in to the transportation projects over the 10-year period. Because the referendum was unsuccessful, we don’t have the $8.5 billion but we still have the same transportation challenges. We’ve got to manage the priorities and the funds we have. They’ve got to go to the projects that provide the quality results.
“Deal said he wants 60 percent of the benefit at 20 percent of the cost. If you can scale the project back a little bit and make it affordable and get some benefit from it, that’s great. That’s what we were going to be doing the morning after the referendum [failed]. On Aug. 1, [Deal] said his biggest priority was the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange.”
Leithead said the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts, a self-taxing group of businesses committed to improving infrastructure and transportation in cities along the I-285 corridor including Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, has committed $10 million toward the project. In October, the Sandy Springs City Council voted to support the districts’ stance.
“The PCID is hoping others will follow their lead,” Leithead said.
Association member Terry Love asked him if the proposed deepening of the Savannah River port had a bigger impact on the state economy than Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
“Yes,” Leithead said. “The amount of freight in the Savannah port [coming from other countries] would triple from about 45,000 vehicles to about 145,000 a year.”