Monday, September 03, 2007

Written 9/3/2007

Why Not Give Us What We Want?

Friends of Barber Creek has consistently asked that Oconee County officials agree to three things should they decide to expand the Rocky Branch sewage plant and begin discharging treated wastewater into Barber Creek.

We’ve asked that the water not be released when the creek is flooding, that the water be treated to the highest level the technology will allow, and that the County provide for independent monitoring.

The County plans to include holding ponds in the upgrade. It has presented charts that show the new plant can exceed the proposed standards. And helping citizens monitor the plant’s operation would be inexpensive.

So why not simply agree to the requests?

E-mail correspondence between officials and Precision Planning Inc., the County's consultant, provide explanations.

Just after noon on December 12, the day of the hearing before the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on the County’s request for a permit to discharge 1.0 million gallons per day of treated wastewater into Barber Creek, Jimmy Parker of PPI sent an e-mail message to Alan Theriault, administrative officer of the County, Melvin Davis, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Gary Dodd, Utility department director, and Christopher Thomas, assistant director of the Utility Department.

Parker also copied the message to Wayne Haynie of Jordan Jones & Goulding and Jim Sunta of PPI. The Utility Department is recommending that JJ&G get the bid to upgrade Rocky Branch.

The purpose of the message was to explain how the officials should address "the three issues presented in the attached flier," which was the petition we circulated asking the EPD to impose our three requests on the County.

Parker said that once Barber Creek floods, the additional water discharged from the plant would produce an increase in water that is "negligible." He said: "In fact, a fallen tree would have much more impact on stream hydraulics and flood levels than the proposed discharge."

So even if the impact is minimal, why not agree to hold the water?

In times of high rain, the County will have few customers for reuse water. The spray fields at the site also will be saturated. It is at these times when the County will most need to discharge into Barber Creek.

Those of us along the creek know that it has flooded often and badly in recent years. We also know that even another tree falling into it is a problem.

So how about the higher level of treatment?

"I feel the County is already going above and beyond, and the water that will be discharged will be cleaner than the water in the Creek," Parker writes. "The real answer to this question is that it would be cost prohibitive, and the net benefits of treating to higher standards do not justify the additional costs.

"I strongly recommend that the County hold their position as ‘meeting’ the requirements established by the State," Parker continued. "If we commit to exceed those requirements, the State may possibly reduce current effluent limits, which would result in additional costs for this and all future treatment expansions."

So it is a matter of money, and not yet being required to meet the higher standards.

Ironically, PPI and JJG prepared a slide presentation for the hearing that showed the Calls Creek sewage plant–the only other sewage plant operated by the County–easily exceeds the standards set by the state on at least two criteria. The Calls Creek plant uses the same technology proposed for Rocky Branch.

So what about independent monitoring?

"The EPD has the right to do this at any time," Parker writes, "but usually these activities are limited to compliance issues due to staffing shortages."

"In my opinion, Oconee County would not object to additional downstream sampling," Parker continued. "But this is an issue that must be addressed by the State, based on availability of resources."

In other words, if the state wants to do it, it is fine with Parker.

The Board of Directors of Friends of Barber Creek has asked that the County help citizens do this monitoring by creating a fund for that purpose and posting all records from operation of the plant on the County’s web site.

These are the issues that will be addressed at the BOC meeting tomorrow night (Sept. 4).

Though BOC Chairman Davis was involved in this correspondence with Parker and the other consultants, the four other members of the Commission are unlikely to even be aware of it.

The department heads work for Davis and report to him.

The four other commissioners, however, can tell Davis and the Utility Department how to operate the plant by agreeing to the three request we are making.

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