Monday, January 22, 2007

Written 1/18/2007

Citizens Pose Lots of Questions at Hearing

About 60 people attended the meeting last night to learn more about the County’s plans for water treatment. The County did a nice job of allowing questions, and there were many. The meeting lasted about two hours.

What is clear is that the County at present plans to pick between two expensive, large projects, one in Walton County and the other in Oconee. Other options were acknowledged but dismissed as not suitable by the two consultants who spoke, William Martello of Jordan Jones & Goulding and Jimmy Parker of Precision Planning.

This is not much of a surprise. Martello developed the Oconee project; Parker is involved with the Walton project.

Costs are more than $100 million in both cases.

County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis said the County is going to decide in the next month or two what it wants to do.

Davis, Martello and Parker argued that the County is going to run out of water soon. The data to support that were sketchy. At one point, Wayne Provost, the director of strategic and long-range planning for the County, said the County had never linked those projections to land use plans. He acknowledged that the current plans do not even call for water services to be provided throughout the County.

Martello said he was using the high projections for population growth and acknowledged that the County has not been growing at the rate to match these projections. He said he did not want to be conservative.

Several of us asked why the County has not considered integrating its sewage treatment and water treatment plants, since they use the same basic technology to treat water and the County has been arguing that the product of its existing and proposed sewage plants is "near drinking level quality."

We had to ask the question several times. Finally, the answer was that the County officials and consultants do not believe the people of this County are smart enough to understand that one way or the other we are reusing water and will be doing so in the future.

Residents of the County will be willing to drink the treated sewage water from other counties (such as Clarke County, which is upstream of the planned Barnett Shoals reservoir), but they will not be willing to drink their own treated sewage water, we were told.

The irony is that, if either of these reservoirs is built, and if the County expands the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant as it proposes, dumping treated sewage water into both Barber Creek and the Apalachee, we would be drinking our own sewage water regardless of which of the two proposed reservoirs we would draw from.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered–but repeatedly asked–question of the night was: How is the County going to pay for either of these reservoirs.

The answer, we were told, has not yet been developed.