Tuesday, March 04, 2008

County to Meet Requests for Rocky Branch

Barber Creek Board Endorses Bid Selection

Oconee County Utility Department Head John Hatcher and Herb Feldman, president of HSF Engineering, both promised at the Oconee County Board of Commissioners meeting tonight that the water coming out of an upgraded Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant will equal or exceed the quality of water coming out of the Calls Creek plant.

They also said the plant will be built with the capability of holding 25 days of treated water and that it will be the County’s policy to hold that treated water rather than discharge it into Barber Creek when the Creek is flooded.

Hearing those two promises, on behalf of the Board of Directors of Friends of Barber Creek, I endorsed the recommendation of the County’s bid Selection Committee that the BOC award the design contract for the plant to HSF Engineering of Snellville.

Friends of Barber Creek Board members had approved that action before the meeting, pending promises by the County about water quality and quantity.

The BOC approved the $572,000 contract for the plant upgrade design unanimously. The upgrade is expected to cost $8 million and will produce 1 million gallons of treated wastewater each day. The County has a permit to discharge that water into Barber Creek.

Calls Creek, the County’s only other sewage plant, uses a different membrane treatment technology than HSF proposed for Rocky Branch, but the water coming out of Calls Creek greatly exceeds the permitted levels for the plant and those the state Environment Protection Division set for Rocky Branch.

Friends of Barber Creek has consistently asked the County to exceed the permitted levels for Rocky Branch, using the F. Wayne Hill plant in Gwinnett County as a standard. That plant had more restrictive permitting imposed after Lake Lanier residents sued the EPD to get the stricter permit.

Oconee County has shown that the Calls Creek plant meets or betters the Gwinnett plant permit levels.

Hatcher and Feldman both gave presentations to the Board before the vote, and both outlined the capability of the plant design to exceed the quality standards of the EPD permit. Feldman presented data from other plants showing the capability of the technology.

Hatcher revealed that the County had storage capability for 25 million gallons of treated wastewater on the site. Feldman said he had never designed a plant in this way before, but he felt it was appropriate to hold water during times when Barber Creek was flooded and would recommend that this be the policy of the County.

Only on Friday, Hatcher and County Utility Department Head Emil Beshara had said that there would be no storage for treated wastewater on site. Beshara said there was no scientific evidence that dumping water into a flooded creek would do any harm.

Hatcher had also said there was no way to provide evidence of the capability of the technology Feldman proposed to use at the plant since a plant of this sort had never been built before.

Tim Price, vice president of Friends of Barber Creek, reminded BOC Chairman Melvin Davis before the vote of a promise he had made at the January 29, 2008, meeting, to do everything possible to protect Barber Creek when operating the Rocky Banch plant.

The County has hidden the discussions of the bids for the Rocky Branch plant behind a cloak of secrecy, arguing that it had the ability to close meetings to the public because of state law allowing closed bidding.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood announced at the meeting last night that Stefan Ritter, senior assistant attorney general, had decided that the County had done nothing wrong in holding the secret meetings.

Ritter called me on Friday to indicate I would receive a letter from him regarding my complaint about the closed meetings. I have not yet received that letter, a copy of which apparently was sent to Haygood.

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