Monday, November 20, 2006

Written 11/20/06

Public Notices Hard to Decode

The November 9, 2006, issue of The Oconee Enterprise contains a Public Notice about a request for a permit for a stream buffer variance on protected state waters that feed into Barber Creek.

It is unlikely that anyone who saw the notice would have understood that this was the issue. The Public Notice does not use the words "variance" or give a clear indication that what is being proposed is an encroachment of the buffer the state has set up to protect state waters.

Because the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest in Atlanta gets all notices of stream buffer variance requests, recognized that it involved Barber Creek, and knew of the existence of Friends of Barber Creek, Center staff informed me of the request. Through the efforts of the Center, I have obtained the actual variance request.

From what I can tell, this is a very minor matter that actually can help Barber Creek, rather than harm it. Georgia Club Estates, an 81-acre residential development project located on Barber Creek Road in Oconee County, wants to modify dams on two farm ponds on the property. At present, the ponds have spillways but no other drainage systems. Because the ponds are spring-fed, they have been designated state waters. To modify the dams, the developer will have to enter the existing 25-foot buffer around these waters. Thus, the developer needs a buffer variance permit.

The construction could help Barber Creek because the dams are old and this construction could improve them and decrease the chances of erosion.

The problem is that everyone who might be affected should have a chance to know what is being proposed and its consequences. That means all of us concerned about Barber Creek.

Fortner Construction Inc. of Loganville, which submitted the application, was told it had to post a legal notice that provided "A description of the proposed buffer encroachment." Here is what the public notice said:

Public Notice

The proposed Barber Creek Road project involves the installation of outlet structures in two ponds. Proposed impacts to the 25-foot buffers associated with these dams include 2,807 square feet (64.32 linear feet) and 1,535 square feet (32.33 linear feet) of the 25-foot buffers adjacent to the open waters. The property is located northeast of the intersection of Barber Creek Road and State Road 53.

If you can get any sense of what is being proposed by that description, you are way ahead of me.

I will write to the EPD and ask that they require another legal notice. If you know of others who needs to know about this request for a buffer variance, please let them know.

This is not the first time we have seen this problem of public notices that don't give needed information. Oconee County ran two public notices about the March 14, 2006, public hearing on its request to get a permit to begin discharging treated sewage water into Barber Creek. Neither one mentioned Barber Creek!

I have notified the EPD of this problem and will do so again at the public hearing we have been granted before the EPD at 7 p.m. on December 12. That meeting will be at the Oconee County Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road. Please plan to attend.

If you are someone who did not know that the County planned to dump treated sewage water into Barber Creek until after that March 14 hearing, please speak up at that hearing. If you know others in that position, please have them attend and speak up as well.

We're lining up speakers for that hearing, so please let me know if you can speak to this point or others regarding the Oconee County permit request.

If you are willing to write to the EPD to reinforce my point that the notice about the buffer variance request by Fortner Construction is not adequate to inform the public about the issue at hand, please let me know and I'll provide you with the details on how to write.

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