Saturday, August 18, 2007

Written 8/18/2007

Guessing When BOC Will Act On Rocky Branch

It’s a guessing game as to whether the proposed expansion of Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant will be on the Board of Commissioners’ agenda on August 28.

Utility Department Director Chris Thomas is quoted in the August 16 issue of The Oconee Enterprise saying that the BOC will vote on that night on the issue.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, in an e-mail message sent to me this morning, said: “At this point in time I do not plan for this topic to be on the agenda for the 8 28 07 meeting.”

The County has not yet posted the draft agenda for the meeting.

Davis’ clearly would like to minimize citizen comment on the decision, and his record of providing details about what he plans to ask the Board to do on the issue isn’t very good.

On July 27, in response to a letter I sent him, Davis sent me an e-mail saying the “Utility Department will provide an update on this possible upgrade of the LAS site, to the Board of Commissioners at the Agenda setting meeting next Tuesday evening, the 31st of July.”

The draft of the Agenda for the Board of Commissioners posted before the August 7, however, indicated that the Board would "Consider approval of the LAS Design Proposal and Sewer Policy Clarification."

I objected in an e-mail I sent to Davis and the other Commissioners on August 5 on the grounds that citizens had not had a chance to review the bids, which had been opened only on July 31.

Davis wrote back the next day, saying:

“The item on the agenda for 8/7/07 does indicate action on the design for the facility. However, staff has indicated that with an RFP (Request for Proposals), negotiations may take place with the recommended vendor in order to clarify tasks, costs, etc. This will allow the Board of Commissioners and the public to have complete knowledge of the scope of the Proposal. At this point staff has not met with the vendor to qualify and clarify expectations. I expect staff to recommend to the BOC that negotiations take place and return to the BOC with specific tasks and costs associated with those tasks. In fact, this recommendation was made by staff to me and forwarded to the Board on 8/3/07.”

Despite this reassurance, Davis sought action on the recommendation by Thomas at the August 7 meeting that the County award a design contract for the plant expansion. The BOC, however, refused to take action.

The draft of the minutes for the meeting, posted on the County’s web site, explains the BOC inaction as follows:

“Utility Director Chris Thomas reported the Review Committee had completed its review of the three proposals for the Rocky Branch engineering upgrade and recommended the use of Jordan, Jones & Goulding (JJ&G) for the design of the upgrade to the Rocky Branch Water Reclamation Facility. By consensus, no action was taken on this matter.”

Charlie Baugh, who is active in Friends of Barber Creek and attended the August 7 meeting on the group’s behalf, put it this way:

“Thomas made the presentation and recommended JJ&G. The recommendation to the BOC was to allow the staff to negotiate the terms and work to be done and a final price for the design work.

“Davis called for motions, and there was a deafening silence. No one moved or said a word. Then Davis asked why there were no motions. (Commissioner Chuck) Horton said he would not vote for JJ&G to do anything. Then (Commissioner) Margaret (Hale) said she did not think it appropriate to continue until the Board had voted to do the expansion. (Commissioner Don) Norris was silent. Davis then said that since the Board was not ready he would defer the item to a later meeting. At that point (Commissioner Jim) Luke said he is for some level of expansion of the LAS site.”

Davis and his Utility Department have been pushing this project for two years, and Davis has tried to calm citizen concerns about it since they first arose in October of 2004. That was when some of us learned that the plant expansion would result in the discharge of treated sewage into Barber Creek.

It is at least possible Davis will try to get the BOC to take action again on August 28.

In rejecting a request by the Board of Directors of Friends of Barber Creek for a meeting with the BOC before any action is taken, Davis wrote on August 6 that the Board had already heard enough from citizens but “when a decision is made by the Board to upgrade the LAS site, a period of public comment will be allowed.”

Those of us who want to ask the BOC to protect the creek from flooding, treat the water to the highest standard the technology of the proposed plant will allow, and agree to independent monitoring of the plant will have to be prepared to make those requests in the “period of public comment” Chairman Davis says he will allow.

And it appears we’ll have to keep guessing when that will happen.

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