Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Written 8/15/2007

Chairman Davis Denies Request for BOC Meeting

Melvin Davis, chairman of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, has rejected the request of Friends of Barber Creek that he schedule a public meeting so citizens can discuss the proposed expansion of the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant with the Board of Commissioners.

Davis wrote that the Board of Commissioners already has done enough to get input from the public and has addressed the concerns raised by the Friends of Barber Creek.

"I see no need to have an additional public meeting," Davis wrote in a letter dated August 6, 2007.

Davis said the Board of Commissioners has discussed the Rocky Branch facility at six meetings, two in 2004, two in 2005 and two in 2006, and held three public meetings on the proposed expansion.

One of those public meetings–in December of 2006–was actually a hearing citizens had requested with the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD), not the BOC.

The public notice telling citizens about the March 2006 hearing did not mention that plant expansion would result in discharge of treated sewage water into Barber Creek.

The BOC meetings dealt with permits and other preliminary actions. The BOC never has voted to expand the plant.

The County received a permit from the EPD in April of 2007 to begin discharging 1 million gallons per day (MGD) of treated sewage water from the Rocky Branch plant into Barber Creek when the plant is expanded.

The Board of Friends of Barber Creek wrote to Davis on July 17 requesting the opportunity to ask the members of the Board of Commissioners, should they decide to expand the Rocky Branch sewage plant, to:

1 Agree to hold discharge water from the Rocky Branch sewage 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 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.

Davis said "It is my belief that the BOC has attempted to get significant public input into this process" and has "responded positively to the three (3) concerns outlined in your letter."

Davis said the County has agreed that the holding facilities on the plant site "will be used to store treated wastewater during times of flooding" and that this requirement "was approved by EPD."

In fact, the EPD permit, which the County received on April 2, 2007, makes no mention of holding facilities and places no restrictions on release of water into Barber Creek other than that the amount cannot exceed 1 MGD on a monthly average or 1.25 MGD on a weekly average.

Davis also contends in his letter that the new plant will use "the same standards as the Hill Plant in Gwinnett County."

In fact, the Gwinnett County facility is required to meet a higher standard than Rocky Branch for total suspended solids, ammonia, fecal coliform bacteria, total phosphorus and turbidity. For example, the Rocky Branch plant will be allowed to discharge water with a fecal coliform bacteria count of 23 per 100 milliliter, while the Gwinnett plant can discharge water with a fecal coliform bacteria count of only 2 per milliliter.

Davis said in his August 6 letter that the EPD "requires continuous monitoring" of the plant, but he does not state that this monitoring is done by the plant operators themselves.

Davis acknowledged that his decision to deny further public discussion could be overruled by a majority of the five-member Board of Commissioners.

Davis copied his response to the other members of the Board of Commissioners. None has written indicating disagreement with Davis’ decision not to hold a public meeting as requested by the Friends of Barber Creek.

The Rocky Branch sewage plant currently uses a Land Application System to treat sewage water, but that technique of spraying sewage water onto hayfields will be replaced by a plant with a membrane filtration system if Rocky Branch is expanded. At present, the County does not discharge treated sewage water into Barber Creek.

Davis’ response to the request for a public meeting on the Rocky Branch expansion contrasts strikingly with his response to the request from the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce earlier this year that the County consider approving beer and wine sales at restaurants.

Davis held lengthy public meetings on that issue in May and June, although, at this point, the BOC has not voted on the issue.

According to Davis’ letter, "when a decision is made by the Board to upgrade the LAS site, a period of public comment will be allowed."

The Board of Directors of Friends of Barber Creek had asked that Davis "schedule a public meeting at which those of us concerned about the health of Barber Creek are given a chance to discuss with the Board of Commissioners announced plans to expand the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant."

It seems it matters quite a lot which group makes the request for the courtesy of meeting with the BOC.

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