Sunday, June 22, 2008

Oconee County Candidates and Rocky Branch Monitoring

Five Willing to Work with Citizens

Five of the 10 candidates for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, representing one candidate each for the five open slots, have committed to work with Friends of Barber Creek to establish independent monitoring of the outflow of the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant into Barber Creek.

Sarah Bell, a candidate for the chairman post, stated support for working with the group on monitoring, as did Johnny Pritchett (Post 1), John Daniell (Post 2), Margaret Hale (Post 3) and Chuck Horton (Post 4).

Incumbent Chairman Melvin Davis did not respond to two email messages on the issue. Incumbent Post 1 Commissioner Jim Luke said he was undecided. Incumbent Post 2 Commissioner Don Norris did not respond. Esther Porter, seeking Post 3, said she did not have enough information to offer an answer. Mike Maxey, seeking Post 4, said he was opposed.

On June 10, I sent the following message via email to all of the 10 candidates seeking to be elected to the BOC at the July 15 Republican primary:

Dear Candidates,

We did not get a chance to pose the question below at the June 2 Candidate Forum because there were so many questions from other members of the audience. We ask that you respond to the question now via email. We will post the responses for our members.


Friends of Barber Creek is pleased that the design for the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant will guarantee water treated to a very high standard and will allow the county to hold water in times of flooding. Now we need help from the BOC in setting up an independent monitoring system. Will you commit to working with Friends of Barber Creek to this end?

The message was sent on behalf of myself and Karen Kimbaris, Tim Price, Joe Block, Eleanor Cotton. We make up the Board of Directors of Friends of Barber Creek.

I followed on June 14 up with an email message, addressed individually to the candidates who had not responded to the first message (Davis, Daniell, Norris, Porter, Horton and Maxey).

For all of the mailings, I used email addresses that I know are working. For Davis and Norris, who never responded, I used their official Oconee County email addresses. For Norris, I used a personal email address as well.

Independent monitoring of the outflow of the Rocky Branch plant is important for at least three reasons.

First, the county has agreed to meet a higher standard than set by the state Environment Protection Division, which has granted the permit to discharge into Barber Creek. The EPD would not register any complaint unless the lesser standard it has set had been violated.

Second, the EPD standards are averages for a month and allow fluctuations during that period.

Third, the EPD, because of funding limitations, relies almost entirely on data reported to it by the plant operators to judge whether the plant meets standards.

Friends of Barber Creek has asked that the county work with it to develop an independent monitoring system. It has not put forward a firm proposal, preferring to work with the county to that end.

Here are the responses of the eight candidates who responded to the email messages, in the order of receipt:

June 11, Margaret Hale.
Have no problem with working with your group to ensure the treatment plant lives up to it promise and potential. This might be a double way to check the quality by organizing monitoring (by both groups) at different times.
Thanks again for Friends of Barber Creeks support in hosting the forum.
Margaret Hale

June 11, Jim Luke.
Maybe? I am not sure what you have in mind, could you share some more detail on the proposal.

June 11, Sarah Bell.
Dear Friends of Barber Creek:
Independent monitoring is essential, I believe, for ALL water sources in Oconee County. I definitely support an independent monitoring system and will work with you to create and implement one.
Sarah V. Bell

June 11, Johnny Pritchett
If elected I want input from citizens and have no problem with your request.

June 15, Chuck Horton

Sorry. I do support a monitoring system or systems with which citizens feel comfortable.
Chuck Horton

June 16, Mike Maxey
Mr. Becker,
I am responding to your question concerning the Rocky Branch sewage treatment plant.
My response is that I have great faith in the Oconee County employees that are assigned to the plant to do what is required by the EPD concerning the monitoring. I also trust that Oconee County has employed qualified personnel to perform this and perform it well. If for some reason or another you do not think that the monitoring is up to standards set forth by the EPD then I would be receptive to independent monitoring but not at the expense of the county taxpayer. If you think that the requirements are not being met, to your standard, then it is your right to have an independent monitoring company come in and check those standards and make sure they are correct. Once again, this should not be at the expense of the taxpayer of Oconee County and only paid for with private funding.
I hope this helps you understand my opinion on this matter.
Michael W. Maxey

June 17, Esther Porter

I am not as informed on this issue . I do know that the EPD has in place monitoring for these types of sites and they are very strict. I have placed a call to Chris Thomas to get info on this subject. Also I read in the booklet from the county that Oconee received a Gold award for the Barber Creek site. I guess I don't understand why you would want an independent group unless you had reason to believe the county was not meeting required testing. I will get back to you after I talk with Chris.
Esther Porter

June 17, John Daniell
I am open to discussions on this issue. I look forward to hearing more, so the county can address your concerns and increase the level of trust between the government and the citizens.


I responded to Jim Luke by telling him that we did not have specific plans. I only acknowledged each of the other responses.

Chris Thomas, referred to in Porter's message, was the head of the Oconee County Utility Department until late last summer and resumed that position just this month.