The RDC’s nonbinding recommendation of approval or denial of the project was not known as of press time.
The Georgia Wildlife Federation, the state’s oldest and largest environmental conservation organization, attended the hearing to oppose approval of the project on the contention that, among other things, some of the land actually belongs to Georgia Wildlife.
In a letter written Monday to Covington Mayor Kim Carter and the city council, Glen Dowling, executive vice president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, briefly laid out the organization’s concerns regarding the possible annexation and development of property owned by Georgia Wildlife.
The letter said legal action could be necessary to clarify discrepancies in the developer’s land plat and those of Georgia Wildlife’s.
Dowling, in an interview, said Georgia Wildlife also was concerned about what the Hazelbrand Industrial Park’s impacts would be on the Alcovy River watershed, its wetlands and air quality.
In the project’s DRI information forms, it was listed as fully built out occupying 2.5 million square feet of impervious surface area or 46.1 percent of the project’s total 214 acres.
Hazelbrand Industrial Park was also described as having no impact on water supply watersheds, wetlands, groundwater recharge areas, protected river corridors, floodplains and other environmentally sensitive resources.
That an industrial park of such magnitude could be expected to have no impact on its surrounding environment has raised the eyebrows of some in the county and prompted incredulous reactions.
“This place is nationally known for its uniqueness,” said Dowling of the area where the park would be located, which is at the intersection of the Alcovy River and Cornish Creek.
Georgia Wildlife’s headquarters are located in Newton County, adjacent to the proposed industrial park. Georgia Wildlife decided to locate its headquarters by the Alcovy River because of its unique ecosystem and the desire to see it protected.
Dowling said he sees a contradiction in the project’s DRI forms, which state there won’t be any need for storm water mitigation because all storm water will be discharged into the Alcovy River while at the same time claiming there will be no impact on groundwater recharge or the river’s watershed.
“We believe that somebody should be able to use their property, but we all have responsibilities to our upstream and downstream neighbors,” Dowling said.
Jerry Silvio, president of Silvio Development Company, a Newton County based company that is assisting the landowners in their annexation and rezoning process, said the intent now is to prepare the property for its eventual developers, not to hash out every detail regarding the protection of wetlands and storm water mitigation.
Silvio said because there is no developer in mind at this time, it didn’t make sense to go through the cost of hiring engineers to develop detailed plans on things like wetland delineation and storm water mitigation.
“It’s not productive to spend engineering money today for rezoning because of the plan of the ultimate developer or user is going to be different than shown,” Silvio said, adding that all of the environmental concerns raised were “ certainly noteworthy and important.”
He said those issues would be addressed in detailed design and engineering plans submitted to local authorities once a developer is found and the actual building permit process begins.
“That would address all of the specifics for runoff and detention and water quality,” Silvio said, adding that the 2.5 million square feet of impervious surface area was the “absolute maximum” that would be built in the industrial park over time.
The industrial park’s DRI application description of no environmental impact on the Alcovy River is a “perfect ideal scenario” Silvio said.
Currently the goal is just to get the land annexed and rezoned by the city so a developer can be attracted, he said.
“This kind of development is aligned with the city and the community’s [desire] for new industry,” Silvio said. “As we all know, industry pays more in taxes than it costs in services.”
According to the DRI form, the industrial park is projected to cost $125 million to build and would bring in $1,875,000 annually in local tax revenues. Silvio said the park could create somewhat less than 1,000 jobs.
Covington City Manager Steve Horton said the city has only so far acknowledged the landowner’s request for annexation. Whatever recommendation comes from the DRI will only serve as an “information tool” for the mayor and council he said.
“As far as any kind of conflict between the Wildlife Federation and the developer, the first time I talked with anybody was yesterday,” Horton said, adding “I’m sure there will be a very lengthy public discussion if and when things come to the mayor and council.”