A public hearing over a sewer discharge permit into the Little Tennessee River will be held on Tuesday, July 7, in Rabun County, Ga.

Rabun County plans to convert a former industrial wastewater treatment plant at a closed-down textile mill into a sewer treatment plant. The plant would discharge into the Little Tennessee River, which flows north into Franklin and Macon County and ultimately ends up in Fontana Lake.

Residents of Macon County have expressed concern over the prospect of 2 million gallons a day of treated wastewater being dumped into the Little Tennessee. The Little Tennessee is known for its excellent water quality and biological diversity. It flows through the heart of downtown Franklin and is a source of recreation. The town may one day need to use it for drinking water as well, fueling concerns.

Macon County and the town of Franklin along with environmental organizations requested a formal public hearing during a written comment period on the permit.

Rabun County leaders hope an operational sewer treatment plant at the former factory site will lure a new industry to set up shop there. County leaders also hope to facilitate general growth and development. With a sewer treatment plant, the county could make a foray into the sewer business, although it would also mean running sewer lines, something it currently can’t do because it lacks a treatment plant.

Part of Rabun County lies in the Little Tennessee watershed, which flows north through Macon County and eventually into the Tennessee River. The rest of the county lies in the Savannah River watershed flowing toward Atlanta.

Once Rabun County gets in the water and sewer business, it could theoretically swap water and sewer across the two watersheds — called an interbasin transfer — which could include sucking water out of the Little Tennessee and depositing it on the Savannah River side bound for Atlanta, according to opponents of the discharge permit.

An information session will begin at 7 p.m. with a public hearing to follow at 8 p.m. The hearing will be held at the Rabun County Courthouse in Clayton, Ga.

Macon County commissioners voiced concern this week over a proposed sewer treatment plant that would discharge into the Little Tennessee River just across the state line in Georgia.

The river, considered an environmental treasure and a future source of drinking water, flows north through Franklin and on to Lake Fontana

“As the county adjacent to and directly downstream from the proposed Rabun County facility we have significant concerns about the impact of this project on the water quality in the Little Tennessee watershed on both sides of the state border,” Macon wrote in a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division states.

Rabun County, Ga., needs a discharge permit to convert the closed-down Fruit of the Loom plant into a sewer treatment plant. While a written public comment period was held on the permit, Macon commissioners called for a formal public hearing in their letter.

The letter also states that the river is listed as polluted in Georgia and North Carolina and potential further degradation must be approached carefully.

The town of Franklin also has plans in the works to use the river as an alternative source of drinking water, the letter states.

“There are many questions we would like the opportunity to discuss,” the letter states.

The application process for a permit provides holding a public hearing if there is sufficient public interest. Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who brought the issue forward, said he believes there is enough public interest to warrant a public hearing.

The Little Tennessee Watershed Association has been leading a public campaign over the past month encouraging the public to send comments on the permit. The environmental group previously spoke at a commissioners meeting about the issue.

When some 4,400 acres along the Little Tennessee River known as the Needmore Tract was taken over by the N.C. Wildlife Commission four years ago, a touch of the Wild West in WNC — complete with wholesome cattle ranchers and rough neck squatters — would soon come to a close.

The possibility that a 40-acre island in the Little Tennessee River might be developed has sparked outrage among conservationists and calls for preservation from those living nearby.

When Cass and Mary Lou Combs attended a conservation celebration along the shore of the Little Tennessee River in Macon County last Friday, their mind occasionally wandered from the speaker at hand to thoughts of a new great-grandchild being born that same day.

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