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'Mr. Clayton County Water' Huie dies at 91

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Morrow native, Edward Lynn "E.L." Huie, Jr., was a man who made a difference everywhere he went. After earning a degree in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1940, Huie joined the U.S. Navy to fight the Japanese during World War II.

As a gunnery officer during his first tour of duty, he received a commendation medal and letter from Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz for his part in defending a vulnerable destroyer from a Japanese bombing raid during a Nov. 1, 1943 mission in the Solomon Islands.

After the war, Huie returned to Georgia and eventually started a cattle farm. In the late 1940s, after being asked to serve his country once again, he dropped his farming pursuits to serve in the Korean War, retiring in 1952 as a Naval captain.

From 1957 to 1959, Huie served as the mayor of his hometown, the City of Morrow.

On Tuesday, May 12, Huie passed away at the age of 91, due to heart failure. Most people, who knew him, however, knew him as 'Mr. Clayton County Water.'

In 1960, Huie assumed the role of general manager of the Clayton County Water Authority, transforming what was then a fledgling concern into the 300-person operation it is today.

According to Water Authority General Manager Mike Thomas, the authority was only five years old in 1960, when Huie assumed leadership. He served as general manager from 1960 to 1983, putting in place many of the processes the authority uses today.

Upon Huie's retirement, he spent the next 13 years, until 1996, serving on the water authority's board of directors, Thomas added. He said Huie was an innovator, whose idea of using natural treatment systems to dispose of treated waste water brought the water authority international recognition.

"His philosophy of managing our resources, using natural treatment systems, and recycling our water, those continue to be key parts of our management philosophy," Thomas said. "[Back in the 1970s], there wasn't a great way of disposing of treated waste water ... the [Flint] river is so small in this part of the watershed and it [treated waste water] wouldn't be able to assimilate. The water authority was going to have to build a very expensive treatment plant, or get the water out of the river by land-applying it."

In the mid-to-late 1970s, according to retired Deputy Manager Terry Hicks, Huie began the process of purchasing the 4,000 acres of land currently housing the E.L. Huie Land Application Site and Constructed Wetlands. After researching a small, existing land-application site at Penn State University, Huie put the technology to use on a scale unprecedented in the eastern United States, Hicks said.

By spraying treated, but non-potable water onto trees and vegetation, the water authority was able to reintroduce clean water to the county's reservoirs by using the plants as a natural filtering system, he said. Hicks said Huie foresaw a rapid growth in Clayton's population and put in infrastructure so the county had enough clean water to sustain itself. Also under Huie's guidance, the county's water and sewer lines were mapped for the first time, Hicks said.

Under Huie's leadership, the authority acquired its first raw-water source in Henry County, the Little Cotton Indian River (now the Hooper Reservoir), which led to the water authority developing one of the largest waste-water treatment systems in the state, according to the authority's public information officer, Suzanne Brown.

According to Thomas, following Huie's idea for land-based application, the water authority completed the first phase of its man-made wetlands system in 2003. Using a variety of marsh and wetland grasses, the system naturally filters water, while providing a home for wildlife.

"He started it with the land-application system, and we went to the man-made wetlands as a way to update and refresh that technology," Thomas said. "It gained a lot of international attention, and people came from all over to see it. We feel like we are the caretakers of what he started."

Aside from being a pioneer of the county's water authority, Huie was a devout Presbyterian, a member of several county boards and civic clubs, and generally well-liked. Ethel Lynn Keeton, Huie's daughter, said he was a well-rounded person, who was able to bring people to a consensus.

"It was a wonderful gift that he had to talk to, and get along with, anybody from any walk of life," Keeton said. "He could work with the people who dug the ditches and buried the pipe, as well as with the people who bought the bonds. You don't always find that in life. He wanted everything done well, and he was usually able to get people to work together for that goal."