Friday, May 08, 2009

GDOT Mitigates Oconee Site in Jackson, Hall

Better Upstream than Down?

The Georgia Department of Transportation will mitigate damage it will do to streams and wetlands on tributaries to McNutt Creek in Oconee County with stream and wetland credits it has purchased from commercial mitigation sites in Jackson and Hall counties.

GDOT has purchased 3.2 wetland credits from Jeffco Boys LLC of Atlanta for a mitigation bank the company operates on the Middle Oconee River in Jackson County and 3,268 stream credits from Environmental Services Inc. of Stone Mountain for a mitigation bank that firm operates on a tributary to the Middle Oconee River in Hall County.

GDOT needed these wetland and stream credits as a condition for a permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued for construction of the Oconee Connector Extension that will create a loop from SR 316 at the current intersection with the Oconee Connector back to Epps Bridge Parkway near Lowe’s.

The roadway will cross streams and wetlands as it makes the loop.

The GDOT project is being undertaken to open up land for commercial development. Oconee County in October rezoned 63 acres between Lowe’s and SR Loop 10 for a $76 million shopping center to be built by Frank Bishop of Atlanta.

The USACE permit, reissued on Jan. 22, 2008, to GDOT, allows it to impact 726 linear feet of intermittent streams and 0.4 acres of wetlands to build the roadway, identified in state and federal documents as the Jennings Mill Parkway Extension, but referred to locally as the Oconee Connector Extension.

Bishop also will fill or pave over streams and wetlands on the site of his shopping center, and USACE. allowed him to mitigate the damage with credits from a site Bishop purchased in Greene County, south of Oconee County.

The Jackson County site is upstream of the bridge on which SR11 crosses the Middle Oconee River, according to Tim Funk of Wetland & Ecological Consultants LLC, which operates the site for Jeffco Boys.

The Hall County site, called the Chicopee Woods Mitigation Bank, is on Walnut Creek in the Elachee Nature Science Center, according to Kevin Middlebrooks of Environmental Services Inc.

Most of the water the Oconee County Utility Department sells comes from the Bear Creek Reservoir, which draws and stores water from the Middle Oconee downstream from these two sites. The reservoir is in Jackson County.

On May 5 the Oconee County Board of Commissioners referred to the citizen advisory Land Use and Transportation Committee a resolution drafted by attorney Katie Sheehan that would put the BOC on record with the Corps of Engineers as preferring mitigation in Oconee County for damage done to streams and wetlands in the county.

The advisory committee is to report back to the BOC once it has reviewed the resolution, which Sheehan drafted after talking with me and reading several blogs I had written on mitigation for Bishop’s shopping center.

Sheehan told me on Thursday that she had sent to the Land Use and Transportation Committee a revision to the resolution that would state a preference for upstream as opposed to downstream sites for mitigation if none were available in the county.

Sheehan is a staff attorney at the River Basin Center in the Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.

Jeffco Boys and Environmental Services Inc. were the low bidders for the mitigation credits, according to Bobby Adams in the GDOT Office of Procurement. Jeffco Boys bid $21,440 for the 3.2 wetland units and Environmental Services Inc. bid $179,740 for the 3,268 stream credits.

GDOT issued an invitation to bid on the Oconee Connector Extension credits and 19 others on Feb. 24, 2009. Adams said the state delayed purchasing the credits needed for the project because of a lack of funds. The state has not yet released the names of the competing bidders.

On April 24 GDOT deferred awarding a bid for the Oconee Connector construction. Adams told me on Tuesday that the "lack of mitigation credits was a big part of that deferral."

Mary Dills from USACE told me on Wednesday that the Corps had received the paperwork for the wetlands credits but had not yet received the paperwork certifying that the stream bank credits had been purchased.

Adams said that check was cut earlier this week.

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