Ga. gives $21 mil­lion loan to Bear Creek Reser­voir

The Covington News - - Front page - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­

The la­bo­ri­ous path to get ap­proval for the planned Bear Creek Reser­voir in south­east­ern New­ton County could fi­nally end this year, af­ter the state gave the project a de facto vote of con­fi­dence by award­ing it a $21 mil­lion long-term, low-in­ter­est loan.

“The state will not of­fer you a loan un­less they have as­sur­ances that you are go­ing to cross the fin­ish line,” said County At­tor­ney Tommy Craig, who is con­sid­ered a reser­voir ex­pert and has han­dled the 1,242-acre Bear Creek Reser­voir project from its ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion in 1999.

Craig said the county is fi­nally on the verge of get­ting the per­mits it needs to with­draw wa­ter from the Al­covy River and build the dam and reser­voir. He said the state told him it plans to is­sue the 401 wa­ter with­drawal per­mit this month, while the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers has a tar­get date of Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber to hand out the 404 per­mit.

“We’re on the fi­nal leg of the jour­ney, and it’s been a long and an ar­du­ous process, but all of them are, and they’ve got­ten more and more dif­fi­cult to get over time,” Craig said.

The $21 mil­lion, 40-year loan has very af­ford­able rates and will pay for the con­struc­tion of the dam and reser­voir, which is expected to take about two years. The loan was awarded by the Gover­nor’s Wa­ter Sup­ply Pro­gram, which gave out a to­tal of $90.49 mil­lion

to eight projects across the state; 15 ap­pli­ca­tions to­tal­ing $195.59 mil­lion were re­ceived. The ac­tual money comes from the Ge­or­gia En­vi­ron­men­tal Fi­nance Author­ity and Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Community Af­fairs.

New­ton’s loan calls for 0 per­cent in­ter­est for the first three years of con­struc­tion and 1 per­cent in­ter­est for any con­struc­tion time af­ter that, which doesn’t have to be paid at the time but can be added to the loan amount. Then for the re­main­der of the 40 years, the in­ter­est rate will be 1.82 per­cent, with the first seven years con­sist­ing of in­ter­est-only pay­ments and the re­main­ing years of prin­ci­pal and in­ter­est pay­ments. There are also no loan clos­ing fees.

“If you could get those terms on a home, you’d prob­a­bly be out buy­ing a man­sion. It’s re­ally a won­der­ful deal for the county,” Craig said.

County Man­ager John Mid­dle­ton said the loan “can pro­vide a very fa­vor­able ar­range­ment for New­ton County that is un­avail­able through any other fund­ing sources, such as the bond mar­ket.”

Chair­man Kathy said the county was ex­cited by the al­lo­ca­tion, but warned that the board of com­mis­sion­ers had not of­fi­cially voted to ac­cept the loan.

“Al­though, this ap­pears to be a very at­trac­tive of­fer, the devil is in the de­tails; the board of com­mis­sion­ers will need to re­view the de­tails of this or any op­tion,” she said.

The fi­nal cost of the reser­voir is expected to be $62.68 mil­lion, but Craig said those costs don’t have to be in­curred un­til well af­ter the reser­voir is built.

Once the per­mits for reser- voir con­struc­tion are is­sued, Craig said the dam would take about six months to de­sign and an­other six months to be ap­proved by the state’s Safe Dams Pro­gram, which would put the county in a po­si­tion to ad­ver­tise for con­struc­tion of the reser­voir in late 2013 or early 2014.

Con­struc­tion is expected to take about two years, and then the reser­voir would likely be filled with nat­u­ral rain­fall af­ter­ward around 2018.

“The project from start to fin­ish through all its phases would be $62 mil­lion, but we don’t an­tic­i­pate the cost to be more than the $21 mil­lion to build the dam and reser­voir, and we wouldn’t spend any more money un­til there was de­mand and we had ex­hausted all the avail­able sup­plies at Cor­nish Creek (Lake Varner). The project would be built in re­sponse to de­mand and the wa­ter rates the county charges would be suf­fi­cient to pay the debt.”

Even­tu­ally the reser­voir is expected to pro­vide a max­i­mum of 28 mil­lion gal­lons per day.

Cor­nish Creek cur­rently can pump around 23.5 mil­lion gal­lons per day, and will even­tu­ally be able to pro­duce 35 mil­lion gal­lons per day, though Wal­ton County owns a 25 per­cent share of Lake Varner and its wa­ter pro­duc­tion. New­ton County also re­ceives 4.5 mil­lion gal­lons per day from the Wil­liams Street Treat­ment Fa­cil­ity in down­town Cov­ing­ton.

As of 2010, New­ton County res­i­dents were us­ing 16 to 18 mil­lion gal­lons per day, but Bear Creek is meant to even­tu­ally pro­vide enough wa­ter for both 400,000 res­i­dents and fu­ture in­dus­tries. In ad­di­tion, Jasper and Wal­ton coun­ties could also buy wa­ter sup­ply from the reser­voir, adding a rev­enue stream for the county.

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