Sunday, August 05, 2007

Written 8/05/2007

County Asked to Take Another Step Toward Rocky Branch Upgrade

Chairman Melvin Davis has put on the agenda for late in the August 7 meeting of the Board of Commissioners an item that could have a big impact on Oconee County, and particularly on those who live along and care about Barber Creek.

The Board will be asked to "Consider approval of LAS Design Proposal and Sewer Policy Clarification."

This will come up after the Board considers eight rezones, including a controversial one on Old Barnett Shoals, and makes appointments to five County committees, including the Planning Commission.

This would seem to be an inappropriate time to decide on a project very conservatively estimated to cost $6 to $8 million and make decisions about how the sewage capacity gained from the proposed upgrade will be allocated between commercial and residential users.

Citizens will not get to see the bid until the meeting and will not know about the proposed sewage use policies until some proposal is announced at the meeting. It seems there will be little discussion of options.

I've written to Mr. Davis asking him to delay any decision on the important project. The text of my letter is below:

August 5, 2007

Dear Mr. Davis:

The draft of the Agenda for the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, August 7, indicates that, under Item 7, the Board will "Consider approval of the LAS Design Proposal and Sewer Policy Clarification."

I ask that the Board take no action at this time on these items.

At the July 31, 2007, meeting, Mr. Chris Thomas, assistant director of the Utility Department, indicated that he and his three designated reviewers would complete their evaluation of the three submitted bids for Engineering Design and Support for the Rocky Branch Water Reclamation Facility Upgrade only on August 2, and that he would not make his recommendation public until August 7.

As a result, citizens will not have had a chance to see the bids until the August 7 meeting. As is clear from the Request for Proposal itself and from the comments Mr. Gary Dodd, Utility Department director, at the July 31 meeting, the bid covers construction management and bidding, in addition to engineering design.

As a consequence, rather than merely making a decision on the bids, the Board is really being asked to make a decision on a project with an expected total cost of $6 to $8 million, according to the RFP.

In addition, the bid does not cover the full scope of work needed to upgrade Rocky Branch. As stated on page 7 of the RFP, it covers only work within "the treatment facility property boundary." The County must build a pump and pipe to get the treated water to Barber Creek, about a mile from the property, and the extensive water distribution network required to operationalize the "reuse" component of the plant.

As a result, the total cost for this project is going to be far in excess of $6 to $8 million.

In addition, on pages 1 and 6 of the RFP, bidders are advised that they should make provisions for an eventual upgrade of the Rocky Branch sewage plant to a 2 million gallons per day capacity, not the 1 MGD covered in the bid. So the decision actually has ramifications beyond the bid itself.

Mr. Dodd said at the July 31 meeting that he wanted to ask the Board to provide policy regarding the use of the new sewage capacity that the Rocky Branch plant will produce. He suggested an even split between commercial and residential use of the new plant’s capacity. During the discussion that followed, however, a number of options were discussed, including setting aside some of the new capacity for existing subdivisions now on septic systems.

In fact, in an e-mail message from Mr. Dodd to County Administrative Officer Mr. Alan Theriault on March 21, 2007, Mr. Dodd indicated that 391,340 gallons per day out of the existing 400,000 gpd of capacity at the existing Rocky Branch plant has "been sold (committed)," with a breakdown of 60% commercial and 40% residential. To get to a 50-50 split for the whole plant, as he suggests in the memo, more of the new capacity would have to be set aside for residential use. But Mr. Dodd also said in that e-mail that the BOC could decide "that they do not want any of the upgrade allotted for residential."

Citizens, who will learn first on August 7 what the Utility Department proposes, should have a chance to review these options and offer comment on them before the Board votes.

At the July 31 meeting, Mr. Dodd also raised the question as to how the Utility Department will set up its financing so that water customers in the County do not subsidize sewage customers, since there will be many more of the former than the latter. This, in addition, is an important issue for the Board to debate.

The list of questions in need of debate, however, is even longer. As you know, Mr. Thomas informed you in an e-mail message of April 2, 2007, that the county has a new wasteload allocation for the Calls Creek sewage treatment plant, "allowing us to expand to 1.5 MGD pending an antidegradation review." So the County could decide to expand Calls Creek rather than Rocky Branch.

In addition, the County received in June of 2006 a wasteload allocation to discharge up to 2 MGD of discharge water from the Rocky Branch plant into the Apalachee River. This option was never explored, but it would seem to be appropriate to discharge into the Apalachee if the County goes forward with the Hard Labor Creek reservoir plans. That reservoir, as you know, would draw water from the Apalachee downstream from the proposed discharge site, meaning that the County truly would be recycling the water it uses.

The fundamental problem is that the County has never debated and adopted a version of the February 2005 wastewater master plan produced for the County. That plan calls for the upgrade of the Rocky Branch plant only as a short-term solution to the need for additional sewage capacity in the County. The report recommends that the County move its sewage treatment facilities to the Oconee River, an option that still remains viable if the County were to work with Clarke County or seek a waste load allocation for alternate locations along the river.

I wrote to you on July 17 and informed you that the Board of Directors of the Friends of Barber Creek wishes to have an opportunity for citizens to voice their requests to the full Board of Commissioners regarding the upgrade of the Rocky Branch sewage plant. Specifically, we are asking that the Board of Commissioners:

1. Agree to hold discharge water from the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant in storage facilities when Barber Creek is flooding or threatening to flood, rather than discharge into the Creek;

2. Treat effluent from the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant to the highest level possible with the technology available and, at a minimum, to the level of treatment at the Hill Plant in Gwinnett County for water being discharged into Lake Lanier; and

3. Set up a system of independent monitoring of the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant, its effluent, and Barber Creek.

At this time, you have not responded to this request, other than acknowledge receipt of it via an e-mail message on July 27. If the Board of Commissioners approves one of the bids on August 7, it will mean that the County will have to go back to the bidder at a later time and ask for modifications to meet the first two requests above.

For all of these reasons, I ask that the Board of Commissioners take no action regarding the upgrade of the Rocky Branch LAS at the meeting on August 7.

I thank you for consideration of this request.


Lee Becker, President
Friends of Barber Creek
1050 Scott Terrace
Athens, GA 30606 (Oconee County)
706 548 1525

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