More nails in the cof­fin of Bear Creek Reser­voir

The Covington News - - OPINION - Cov­ing­ton

To the edi­tor:

On Sept. 28, the New­ton Board of Com­mis­sion­ers (BOC) heard a pre­sen­ta­tion about the Bear Creek Reser­voir Project by con­sul­tants Ne­cho­lus Og­den and Dr. Richard White­side. Og­den is a re­tired Corps of En­gi­neers ex­ec­u­tive and White­side is a PhD-level en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant ex­pe­ri­enced in 404 per­mit­ting and mit­i­ga­tion. Their re­port was largely an overview of pre­vi­ous stud­ies and an as­sess­ment of the sta­tus of the Bear Creek 404 Ap­pli­ca­tion.

The two con­sul­tants fur­ther sealed the cof­fin of the Bear Creek Reser­voir. They said it would be best to start over com­pletely with a new 404 ap­pli­ca­tion rather than try to res­ur­rect the old ap­pli­ca­tion. The con­sul­tants es­ti­mated the project would cost $90-140 mil­lion plus the cost of a wa­ter treat­ment plant. How­ever, Og­den said that with­out a demon­strated need for the reser­voir, no per­mit would be is­sued by the Corps of En­gi­neers. With slower pop­u­la­tion growth and lower per capita wa­ter con­sump­tion rates, New­ton County can­not show a need for more wa­ter for an­other 28 years.

When a fu­ture need for more wa­ter can be demon­strated, to get a 404 Per­mit Bear Creek Reser­voir would have to be the least en­vi­ron­men­tally dam­ag­ing op­tion for meet­ing that need, and eco­log­i­cal and cul­tural im­pacts mit­i­gated as re­quired by the 2008 rules. That means that mit­i­ga­tion cred­its would likely have to be bought from ex­ist­ing mit­i­ga­tion banks and that the land pur­chased by for­mer county at­tor­ney Tommy Craig may not be ac­cept­able for mit­i­ga­tion. That pretty much means the county spent $5.4 mil­lion for 1,009 acres of mit­i­ga­tion land that is not use­ful for that pur­pose. In ad­di­tion, Dr. White­side re­ported that the county could not sell the mit­i­ga­tion cred­its be­cause there is no un­met de­mand in our re­gion.

White­side and Og­den did a rough com­par­i­son of the cost- ben­e­fit of build­ing a new reser­voir verses the cost of struc­tural im­prove­ments to our cur­rent wa­ter sys­tem. They es­ti­mated it would cost 2 or 3 times more per mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter to build Bear Creek than im­prove our ex­ist­ing sys­tem. And, with im­prove­ments, our cur­rent sys­tem is pro­jected to pro­vide ad­e­quate wa­ter for the next 28 years (2045-2050 ac­cord­ing to other ex­perts).

Hope­fully, this is the last “study” of the Bear Creek Project that tax­pay­ers will have to fund. The BOC should of­fi­cially aban­don the project so that the landown­ers with “first right of re­fusal” clauses in their con­tracts can buy back their land now if they wish, and not have to wait un­til Jan. 1, 2020. All un­needed land should be put up for sale in or­der to recover some of the $25 mil­lion wasted by for­mer of­fi­cials. Put it up for sale, not give it away as re­cently hap­pened! Lastly, but of im­me­di­ate im­por­tance, is to start con­struc­tion of the im­prove­ments to our ex­ist­ing wa­ter sys­tem.

It’s time for the pub­lic to re­mind our Com­mis­sion­ers once again to stop spend­ing our money on the Bear Creek boon­dog­gle. Sub­mit­ted by: Larry McSwain

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