Thursday, October 27, 2016

Audience Not Happy With Analysis Of Alternatives To Pipeline Down Oconee County’s Calls Creek

Gravity Declared Most Efficient

Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie saved the slide that most of the 70 people in the audience at the Water Resources Town Hall Meeting last (Wednesday) night came to see until near the end of his nearly hour-long presentation.

It was quite clear once he showed the slide that most of the people in the audience didn’t like the message it contained.

The slide, according to Haynie and his consultants, showed that running a sewer line down Calls Creek is the most cost effective way of getting treated water from the county's Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant on the edge of Watkinsville to the Middle Oconee River.

People in the audience disputed the calculations and the assumptions that lie behind them, arguing that the disruption to the neighborhood and the creek itself was more important than any identified cost savings.

Heated Exchange

“We’ve got much, much work ahead,” Haynie said in closing his presentation. “But we think we’ve got the team in place to right the ship, get us caught up with the development, get us out ahead of it, and move things on down the way in a cost effective manner for our rate payers.”

Click To Enlarge

Then Haynie said he would welcome questions.

“I don’t need a microphone,” someone at the front of the room shouted out immediately. He did not identify himself.

The man said he spoken with Haynie earlier this year and "You gave me the impression that we’re going to weigh the options, have some discussions, and then decide what to do. It sounds like you have already made the plans. We’re going to do a gravity feed.”

“I said it was the most cost effective method of moving the wastewater,” Haynie said in response.

It was clear from the questions that followed over the next hour that many in the audience didn’t believe Haynie’s assertion that the final decision had not been made and would be a political one, made by the Board of Commissioners, not by him.

Team Of Presenters

Haynie invited five consultants employed by the county to assist him in the presentation, and they covered topics ranging from the quality of water in the county’s streams, the current demand for drinking water, plans for a new water tower, permitting and construction plans for an upgrade to the Calls Creek plant, and plans for new sewer lines in the county.

A little more than 45 minutes into the presentation, Jimmy Parker of Precision Planning Inc. of Monroe got to the question on the minds of most of those in the audience.

“So what happens beyond 1.5 mgd and the assimilative capacity of Calls Creek?” Parker asked.

The state has determined that the creek can only handle 1.5 million gallons per day of treated wastewater, but the county has said it wants to expand the existing plant to 3 million gallons per day in the near future and perhaps even more in the long term.

Alternatives Identified

The county had proposed a gravity feed sewer line down the Calls Creek corridor, he reminded the group, but those present hardly needed that background.

The county looked at four alternatives, he said.

The first of these would follow much of a Georgia Power easement.

The second would follow Spartan Lane.

The third would follow Simonton Bridge Road.

The fourth would follow U.S. 441.

Comparisons Made

All four alternatives would require pumps, rather than simply gravity, Parker said.

Parker said his analysis showed that the gravity feed line would cost the most to build, at $4.6 million.

But the gravity alternative would have a 25-year-life-cycle-cost of only $4.8 million, he siad, compared with $5.9 million for the cheapest alternatives, the Georgia Power Line and Spartan Lane routes.

The 50-year-life-cycle costs showed even greater differences.

The gravity line would cost $5.2 million, while the cheapest alternative, the Simonton Bridge Road route, would cost $8.2 million.

Conclusion Reached

“So based on our evaluation, and looking and O and M costs,” Parker said. “The gravity sewer option is the most efficient, long term, from an operation and maintenance standpoint.”

Much of the discussion in the hour after Haynie ended his presentation focused on that analysis, with many arguing that the cost differentials were trivial given the impact the project would have on the residential neighborhoods along the creek.

Jim McGarvey, president of Friends of Calls Creek, which has been fighting the pipeline proposal since it was first announced earlier this year, was most outspoken.

He said the project already had adversely affected home values in the neighborhoods along the creek and urged the county not to delay any longer its decision on which alternative would be chosen.

“Either let us know, so we can get the hell out of Oconee County,” McGarvey said. “Or go down 441 or do something else. You’ve got to tell the people.”

”Dark Times”

Haynie started the meeting by telling the audience that 2014 and 2015 where the “dark times” in the county, when the county had wastewater spills and “mechanical deficiencies at our plants.”

These problems are in the past, he said, because the county made some key hires, got assistance from outside experts, “and we’ve improved our plant operations.”

It is unlikely that Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis, soon–to-be-elected incoming Chairman John Daniell and Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes, in the audience, found talk of the “dark times” very pleasant. All were on the Commission during that period.

Commissioner Jim Luke and Commissioner Mark Saxon, also members of the Commission in 2014 and 2015, did not attend the meeting last night at the Community Center in Veterans’s Park.

Mark Thomas, whose name will be on the ballot in November to replace Luke, also was not at the meeting, but the three candidates for Post II on the Commission, Ben Bridges, Chuck Horton and Marcus Wiedower, were there.

Hard Labor Creek

Haynie made the surprising announcement that the county does not need the water collecting in Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in Walton County.

The Board of Commissioners, over the objections of Horton, who was on the Commission from 2004 to 2012, and then Commissioner Margaret Hale, voted to join Walter County in that project.

Haynie said the county can get all the water it needs in the foreseeable future from the Bear Creek Reservoir.

The county is responsible for about $20 million in debt for the Hard Labor Creek reservoir project.

Video And PowerPoint

The county has put the PowerPoint presentation given by Haynie and his consultants at the meeting last night on its web site.

The video below is of the entire meeting. Sarah Bell assisted with the video recording.

OCO: Water and Sewer Town Hall Meeting 10 26 2016 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Oconee Board Of Commissioners Candidate Says He Didn’t Ask Nevada Congressman For $2,000 Campaign Donation

Friend Raised The Money

Marcus Wiedower says he doesn’t know the Nevada Congressman who gave him $2,000 for his campaign for Post II on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

Weidower said the $2,000 contribution came as a result of request on Wiedower’s behalf by Richard Goddard, who served as chief of staff for Congressman Mark Amodei from October of 2011 to February of 2015.

Goddard is the president of The Southern Brewing Company in Athens and lives in Lane Creek subdivision in western Oconee County.

Goddard confirmed that he made the request of Amodei because of his relationship with Wiedower.

Goddard said that Wiedower has been a leader at High Shoals Elementary School and that he also knows Wiedower because their children play sports together.

Called On Old Boss

Goddard, in a telephone conversation I had with him today, said he simply called on the Congressman for whom he worked to help out someone he supports in the local campaign.


“I called Mark, the Congressman, and said ‘I’ve got a local guy, would you mind helping me out and sending a check?’ He said ‘absolutely’ and sent a check.”

Amodei is a Republican who represents the northern part of Nevada, including Reno. He has served in Congress since 2011.

Amodei does have opposition in the November election, but Ballotpedia rates his seat as safely Republican.

The $2,000 that Amodei gave to Wiedower is part of the nearly $24,000 that Wiedower has raised for the special election on Nov. 8. The other two candidates, Chuck Horton and Ben Bridges, have raised about half that amount between them.

Local Connection

Amodei has a Leadership Political Action Committee called Ponderosa PAC, headquartered at 824 South Milledge Avenue, Suite 101, in Athens, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

Paul Kilgore is the listed treasurer of Ponderosa PAC.

Kilgore is the president and founder of PDS Compliance, which does the paperwork and management of political financial entities.

Goddard told me today that he learned that Amodei had created his PAC long after he had finished his term as Amodei’s chief of staff and that he had nothing to do with the decision to house in it Athens.

Wiedower, when I talked to him last night, said he was unaware of the existence of the Ponderosa PAC until I told him about it.

$600 More Possible

Amodei legally could contribute up to a total $2,600 to Wiedower’s campaign, according to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission web site.

The $2,000 Amodei gave was the largest amount Wiedower reported on his Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report.

Early voting continues to be strong in the county. By the end of the day today (Thursday), 5,837 persons had cast a ballot, or 21.0 percent of the county's registered voters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Large Crowd Turns Out To View Maps Of Current Route Of U.S. 441 In South Of Oconee County

No Future Route Presented

A large crowd turned out at an Open House tonight (Tuesday) to review maps of the current route of U.S. 441 as it passes through Oconee County south of Watkinsville and take advantage of opportunities to give the Georgia Department of Transportation input on its proposed widening of the route.

About 50 people, including 20 representatives of GDOT and its consultants, were in the room at the Community Center in Veterans Park 10 minutes before the Open House was scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wiedower Raised Nearly Twice As Much Money In Oconee County Board Of Commission Race As Other Two Candidates Combined

Sign On Davis Property

Marcus Wiedower has raised just less than $24,000 in his bid to gain a seat on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, more than twice the amount of money raised by Chuck Horton, his nearest competitor in fundraising.

Through the end of the day today, Horton had raised $11,485, while Ben Bridges, the third candidate seeking Post II on the BOC, had raised $500.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Three Candidates For Oconee Commission Want That Body To Play A Strong Role In U.S. 441 Widening

GDOT Meeting Scheduled

The three candidates for Post II on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners want the Board to play a strong role in representing citizen concerns to the Georgia Department of Transportation as it plans for the widening of U.S. 441 in the south of the county and a bypass of Bishop.

In separate interviews, each candidate called for the Commission to play a stronger role than it is playing a present.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Oconee County Advised Owner Of Large Tract Now Zoned For Subdivision To Downzone Land To Agricultural Use

To Build Farm Lake

The Oconee County Planning Department has advised the owner of an 188-acre tract between Daniells Bridge Road and Cliff Dawson Road currently zoned for a large subdivision that he should downzone the property for agricultural use to accommodate his plans for the land.

David Mulkey, operating as Wildwood of Columbia LLC, purchased the 188 acres in June of this year, according to Oconee County tax records.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Oconee County Commission Candidates Call For More Transparency In Dealing With SPLOST

Horton Open To Citizen Oversight

All three of the candidates seeking to fill Post II on the Oconee County Board of Commissioners are proponents of more transparency regarding how the Commission spends revenue from its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Only Chuck Horton, however, stated a willingness to have a citizen committee to provide oversight for decisions made by the Commission on the 1 percent sales tax. Other counties, including Athens-Clarke County, have such a citizen committee.