Bear Creek Reser­voir back on track

Long per­mit­ting process ahead

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Rachel Oswald

Af­ter sev­eral stops and starts, it ap­pears that the Bear Creek Reser­voir project is back on.

On Jan. 9 the U. S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers Savannah Dis­trict is­sued a Joint Pub­lic No­tice an­nounc­ing that it had re­ceived an ap­pli­ca­tion from the New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers seek­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal per­mit for con­struc­tion of the reser­voir.

The site of the Bear Creek Reser­voir would be lo­cated im­me­di­ately down­stream of Henderson Mill Road Bridge over Bear Creek in the south­east­ern end of the county.

Ac­cord­ing to the Joint Pub­lic No­tice, once com­pleted the reser­voir would en­com­pass 1,242 acres.

The im­pact area is 36 acres of wet­land and 24 miles of stream. The project would also re­quire the in­stal­la­tion of 6,000 feet of pipe­line for pump­ing wa­ter from the Al­covy River.

The dam for the reser­voir would be 1,450 feet long, 62 feet high and 350 feet wide at the base. At full pool el­e­va­tion the reser­voir would sup­ply ap­prox­i­mately 28 mil­lion gal­lons per day.

Im­pacts of the project on in­fra­struc­ture would in­clude the flood­ing of 10 res­i­dences and por­tions of Mace­do­nia Road, Gaithers Road, Ben­ton Road, Old Post Road and Henderson Mill Road. Ac­cord­ing to the Joint Pub­lic No­tice, while the other roads would be dead-ended at the reser­voir it would be nec­es­sary to re­lo­cate Henderson Mill Road over the top of the dam.

Scott Cole, an at­tor­ney for the county who is work­ing on the project, said the county had pur­chased the land of all but one of the 10 af­fected res­i­dences.

The Bear Creek Reser­voir is in­tended to serve, along with Lake Varner and City Pond, a pro­jected county pop­u­la­tion of 375,000 by 2050. Un­like Lake Varner, which is 25 per­cent owned by Wal­ton County, Bear Creek Reser­voir would serve only New­ton County res­i­dents.

Cole said cost es­ti­mates for the project are not yet avail­able but that the project would likely cost in the “tens of mil­lions.”

Cole said over 99 per­cent of the land needed for the reser­voir has al­ready been ac­quired by the county. While the con­struc­tion cost of the reser­voir will have risen greatly since the project was first con­sid­ered, Cole said the county had ob­tained great cost sav­ings by mov­ing to ac­quire the land when it did.

The Corp of En­gi­neers’ de­ci­sion whether to is­sue a Sec­tion 404 per­mit in ac­cor­dance with the fed­eral Clean Wa­ter Act will be based on an eval­u­a­tion of the cu­mu­la­tive im­pacts the reser­voir will have on the pub­lic as well as the en­vi­ron­ment.

The Corp will con­sider con- ser­va­tion, eco­nomics, wet­lands, fish and wildlife val­ues, flood haz­ards, land use, shore­line ero­sion, wa­ter qual­ity and con­sid­er­a­tions of prop­erty own­er­ship among other things in its con­sid­er­a­tion of the ap­pli­ca­tion.

The Corp is cur­rently solic­it­ing com­ments from the pub­lic, fed­eral, state and lo­cal agen­cies. Any com­ments re­ceived will be weighted by the Corp in its de­ci­sion whether to is­sue, mod­ify, con­di­tion or deny a per­mit for the reser­voir.

Any­one wish­ing to com­ment on the county’s ap­pli­ca­tion should sub­mit con­cerns in writ­ing to the Com­man­der, US Army Corps of En­gi­neers, Savannah Dis­trict, At­ten­tion: Reg­u­la­tory Branch, Post Of­fice Box 889, Savannah, Ge­or­gia 31402-0889. Com­ments must be posted by Feb. 9. A March pub­lic in­for­ma­tion meet­ing is ex­pected to be held.

At the Jan. 15 BOC meet­ing County At­tor­ney Tommy Craig told the board that the per­mit­ting process would likely be a long one.

Ne­go­ti­at­ing the red tape

The his­tory of the Bear Creek Reser­voir project is a long and wind­ing one. The project was orig­i­nally con­ceived by for­mer County Chair­man Davis Morgan. Ac­cord­ing to Cole, at the time that Lake Varner was per­mit­ted in the early 1990s it was de­ter­mined that the next best pos­si­ble lo­ca­tion for a reser­voir would be at Bear Creek.

Rec­og­niz­ing that the county’s pro­jected pop­u­la­tion growth would re­quire an­other re­li­able source of pub­lic wa­ter, the county or­dered an eval­u­a­tion of specif­i­cally where the dam site would be lo­cated and be­gan pur­chas­ing land for the reser­voir, in­clud­ing 220 acres or land sur­round­ing Gaithers Plan­ta­tion.

Fol­low­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of the ma­jor­ity of land needed for the reser­voir, in 2000 the board sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion for a Sec­tion 404 per­mit to the Corp of En­gi­neers. What would fol- low was an eight-year pe­riod of the board ne­go­ti­at­ing its way through a tan­gled bu­reau­cracy filled with failed in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal agree­ments, new pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions and new re­quire­ments from the Corp.

Ac­cord­ing to Cole, dur­ing the ini­tial 30-day pub­lic no­tice pe­riod, the Corp re­lo­cated its of­fice to Mor­row Ga. Cole said the Corp was con­cerned that it may not have re­ceived all pub­lic com­ments as a re­sult of the move and so asked the county to with­draw its ap­pli­ca­tion and re­sub­mit it.

While the county was re­sub­mit­ting its ap­pli­ca­tion, Cole said the Corp put a halt to all fu­ture reser­voir projects in the state as the re­sult of two un­re­lated reser­voir projects near Can­ton, Ga. clam­ing the same fu­ture pop­u­la­tion as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for new reser­voirs.

“The fed­eral agen­cies were un­der­stand­ably con­cerned that the state was us­ing the same pop­u­la­tion twice and put a halt to fur­ther reser­voir projects un­til it could come up with a method­ol­ogy for de­ter­min­ing need,” Cole said.

Once the Corp had de­ter­mined a new method­ol­ogy, they re-ex­am­ined the Bear Creek reser­voir ap­pli­ca­tion and found that the county had used pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions based on data com­piled be­fore the 2000 cen­sus re­sults were avail­able.

Cole said the Corp asked the county to re-write the ap­pli­ca­tion to in­clude the 2000 cen­sus pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions. At that time Cole said Jasper County ap­proached the BOC to ask if it could par­tic­i­pate in the project.

Cole said New­ton County spent 18 months ne­go­ti­at­ing with Jasper County be­fore an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment ul­ti­mately fell through for “po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.”

At that time the North­east Ge­or­gia Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter had is­sued new pop­u­la­tion pro­jec­tions of its own as had the Metro North Ge­or­gia Wa­ter Plan­ning Dis­trict so the state asked the county to rec­on­cile its own pro­jec­tions with those of the other two agen­cies Cole said.

In ad­di­tion Cole said the Corp was now giv­ing in­creased at­ten­tion to the im­pacts caused by reser­voirs to free flow­ing streams whereas in the past they had chiefly fo­cused on the im­pact to wet­lands.

“Peo­ple are ac­cus­tomed to mit­i­gate to the wet­lands so new mit­i­ga­tions had to be de­vel­oped and ap­proved,” Cole said.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing a new let­ter from the state cer­ti­fy­ing that there was a need for the reser­voir and fi­nal­iz­ing its own stream flow mit­i­ga­tion plan for the project, the county re-sub­mit­ted for the third time its ap­pli­ca­tion for a Sec­tion 404 per­mit to the Corp in Novem­ber.

Build­ing a com­mu­nity: Stu­dents take part in Mini-Re­al­ity lessons

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.