Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Written 9/18/2007

The Bonds of Hard Labor Creek

The Athens Banner-Herald reported today that a Newton County man has intervened in Walton Superior Court to block the sale of bonds to finance the proposed Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

Walton and Oconee counties are partners in the $350 million project, with Oconee expected to pay more than $100 million.

The story doesn’t provide much background on Samuel M. Hay III, who filed the brief objecting to the validation of the bonds, or on the grounds for the request that the Court refuse to validate the bonds.

Hay, who has a Covington postal box, has a web site on which he is described as an independent researcher who has worked with environmental issues for more than 20 years. A story in the Banner-Herald in 2002, when Hay announced he was running for Governor as an independent, described him as a "journalist, newspaper officer and print company account manager."

According to the 2002 Banner-Herald story, Hay is not an attorney, though he has "entered into and argued" legal cases as a private citizen.

The Banner-Herald story today waited until the 10th paragraph of a 14-paragraph long story to explain the basis of Hay’s objection to the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir. The top of the story dealt with Walton County official responses to the legal action.

Some of the arguments Hay makes are ones that were voiced in Oconee County before the Board of Commissioners voted on September 4 to join with Walton County on the reservoir project. Others are new.

In his "Intervenor’s Brief," which Hay sent to me in response to my request, he claims that "Walton County has failed, by all standards of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and appropriate Federal Law, to explore and prioritize more environmentally sound, less expensive and more productive alternative sources of water for the citizens."

"The debt service on this, the largest public works project ever undertaken in this County, will raise the cost of the project to in excess of $800 MILLION DOLLARS," Hay writes.

"Families farms, homes and a way of life will be needlessly destroyed forever having been inundated by the reservoir," according to the document.

Hay further contends:

"This reservoir will evaporate up to ten million gallons of water per day resulting in a valuable loss of downstream water supply to what may be the most valuable estuary in the entire Atlantic Ocean. This coastal region which reaches from the South Carolina state line to Jacksonville, Florida is being destroyed by the lack of planning and conservation of water resources within this area. Slowing of the flows in the waterways has destroyed valuable spawning grounds for marine life whose hatch are killed upon contact with the ever increasing salt content of the marshes due to reservoirs in this region causing severe chemical changes in the brackish water chemistry."

The filing also questions whether proper legal notice about the bond validation hearing was provided in Oconee County.

Finally, it questions whether permits will be granted for the pumping of water from the Apalachee River to the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir given previously issued licenses.

The Banner-Herald was following a story in The Walton Tribune published a on September 16. The Tribune story didn’t contain much information either.

Hay’s brief is on the web site, Oconee County Observations II.

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