Friday, February 24, 2017

Oconee County Utility Department Director Successfully Kept His Comments About Calls Creek From Being Recorded

Talk To Civil Engineers

Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie told the Northeast Georgia Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers that he would help them understand “the fuss” over the county’s plans to put a sewer pipeline down Calls Creek.

Cindy Mitchell McGarvey, who lives on the creek and is one of the organizers of Friends of Calls Creek, was interested in sharing what Haynie had to say at the engineering group’s regular meeting on Feb. 16, so she borrowed a video camera and attended the meeting.

Haynie objected to the camera when he stood up to talk, however, saying he was hoping to have a “safe space” among the civil engineers to talk about the controversy over the county’s plans to expand its Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant and run a discharge pipeline through the neighborhoods along the creek.

Haynie went forward with his talk–and explanation of the controversy the pipeline had raised–only after the engineering group voted to ask McGarvey to turn off the camera and she complied.

Public Meeting

The regular meeting of the Northeast Georgia Branch of the ASCE was publicized in advance, with an announcement of Haynie’s talk circulating on email lists of area engineers.

The title of the talk was “Calls Creek WRF: Why all the fuss?”

The luncheon event at Stricklands Restaurant, 4723 Atlanta Highway, near Bogart, was open to the public, with those attending asked to pay $15. Students only had to pay $5.

McGarvey paid the $15, set up the camera, and joined the group for the lunch.

I had lent her the camera, since I could not attend myself because of another commitment.

Our agreement was that she would share the video with me as well as with the members of Friends of Calls Creek, which has led opposition to the proposed pipeline.

Speaker Introduction

After the lunch and a series of reports on group finances and other issues, Santosh Ghimire, ASCE Northeast Georgia Branch president, introduced Haynie.

Haynie said a few words and then noted that McGarvey was recording the session. Haynie said that “there is a threat of litigation” regarding the project.

“I was coming here hoping that this might be a ‘safe space’ for us engineers,” Haynie said. “I would respectfully ask that the camera be turned off.

“I think that’s only fair that we be able to come out and meet with our industry and not have to have that.”

McGarvey refused, saying that “it was a public meeting in a public place.”

Haynie interrupted McGarvey, saying “I’ll ask the officers for a ruling on that.”

That ultimately led to the vote by the members to ask McGarvey to turn off the camera and not to use any audio device as well.

The video of the exchange is below.

OCO: Haynie Before Civil Engineers from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

PowerPoint

Haynie’s presentation consisted of 31 slides, which I obtained through an open records request.

Slide Of Citizens Protesting Calls Creek Pipeline

Haynie had used most of those slides in public presentations he had given in the last year as the discussions of the upgrade to the Calls Creek plant had progressed.

Two slides that were added focused on opposition to the sewer pipeline.

One showed people, including McGarvey’s husband, Jim, at public events wearing T-shirts stating opposition to the pipeline.

Another showed a deforested landscape with the word “Imagined” on the top.

McGarvey’s Notes

While McGarvey was not allowed to record Haynie’s comments, she was allowed to remain and take notes.

Slide Of Deforested Landscape

According to those written notes, which she shared with me, Haynie said one of the reasons for the citizen response was a “mistrust of local government.”

He also said people had a mistaken impression of what the pipeline would do to the landscape.

The canopy will grow back and grassy areas will return, Haynie said, according to McGarvey’s notes.

Haynie has made similar arguments at meetings in the past.

Upgrade Approved

The Board of Commissioners voted to upgrade the Calls Creek plant to 1.5 million gallons per day of capacity at its meeting on Feb. 7.

Those plans do not include construction of a sewer pipeline down Calls Creek.

Haynie told the Board he wanted to keep open the option of expanding that plant at some point in the future to 3 million gallons per day or even more, and the Board approved design components to accommodate that possible future upgrade.

The state has said that it will not allow the release of more than 1.5 million gallons per day of treated effluent to Calls Creek.

The pipeline was proposed as a way of getting that treated effluent to the Middle Oconee River, where the state has said it will allow the discharge of additional sewage plant effluent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Stakeholders Committee For Oconee County Comprehensive Plan Asks For More Control Over Its Work Schedule

At Initial Session

Justin Crighton, a planner with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, got a polite pushback Tuesday night as he presented his proposed timetable for the work of the Stakeholders Committee for the Oconee County Comprehensive Plan at the group’s first meeting.

Crighton proposed five subsequent meetings of the citizen committee, including a session on March 14 to begin discussing land use issues in the county.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Supporters And Opponents Of Convenience Store On Eastern Edge Of Oconee County Turn Out For Planning Commission Meeting

General Store Proposed

The smallest project in terms of acreage on the agenda of the Oconee County Planning Commission on Monday night produced the largest citizen response.

Nine citizens came to the podium to speak against a proposal by Pat and Marsha Halloran to build a country store–in the language of the development code, a convenience store--at the intersection of Bob Godfrey Road and Belmont Road on the very eastern edge of Oconee County.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Field Trip In Oconee County Provided Opportunity For Sampling Of Greenbriar Creek And Examination Of Stream Characteristics

Three Farms Visited

The Citizen Committee for Water Resources and its guests on Saturday got a chance to see Greenbriar Creek and one of its tributaries up close in a field trip to three farms just east of Bishop.

The creek, and the three farms, could be impacted by construction of a U.S. 441 bypass of Bishop if the Georgia Department of Transportation opts for a route east of the small city.

Oconee County Planning Commission To Try Again To Review Ministry College Proposal

Will Need Quorum

The Oconee County Planning Commission tomorrow (Monday) night is to pick up its agenda from last month, when it did not have a quorum, and give consideration to a request to convert a portion of the former Green Hills Golf Course and Country Club in the far east of the county to a ministry college.

The Commission also will review a request from Stonebridge Partners LLC for a rezone of land for a residential subdivision on undeveloped land across from the existing Daniells Plantation subdivision, just east of Butler’s Crossing.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

First Meeting of Stakeholders Committee for Oconee County Joint Comprehensive Plan Set For Tuesday

First of 4-5 Meetings

The Stakeholders Committee for the Oconee County Joint Comprehensive Plan is scheduled to hold its first meeting from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

According to Justin Crighton from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, this is one of four of five meetings the Stakeholders Committee will hold over the next 10 to 12 months as it works to create a new Joint Comprehensive Plan for the county and its four cities.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oconee County Administrative Officer Benko Announces Retirement Effective July 1

Informed Board Tuesday

Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko announced at the end of his meeting with department directors this (Wednesday) morning that he plans to retire effective July 1.

Benko, 62, said he informed the members of the Board of Commissioners of his decision on Tuesday.