Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oconee Citizen Advisory Committee to Discuss Mitigation Resolution

On Referral from BOC

The 14-member Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning is scheduled to take up the issue of mitigation for wetland and streambed destruction at its regular meeting that starts at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

Katie Sheehan, a staff attorney at the River Basin Center in the Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, will present to the committee a resolution she drafted for possible adoption by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

The resolution, if passed, would put the county on record with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as preferring mitigation in Oconee County or upstream from the county for damage done to streams and wetlands in the county.

Developers that want to drain wetlands and pipe or divert streams on their sites must get a permit from the Corps of Engineers before being allowed to do so. The Corps, in granting permits, requires some form of mitigation.

Builders of roads and other projects that affect flowing waters in the state also must obtain permits from the Corps and mitigate damage with restoration elsewhere.

Oconee County currently has two commercial mitigation banks in differing stages of development, one on Rose Creek in the very southern part of the county and the other on tributaries to the Apalachee River in the northwest of the county.

At its May 5 meeting, the Board of Commissioners referred the resolution to the Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning for review. The committee is scheduled to at least initiate that review on Nov. 10.

Sheehan drafted the resolution after talking with me and reading several blogs I had written on mitigation for construction of the planned Epps Bridge Centre on Epps Bridge Parkway near Lowe’s.

Frank Bishop, developer of that site, purchased land in Greene County and developed a mitigation bank there after, he said, he discovered that land in Oconee County was too expensive.

The Corps subsequently granted Bishop permission to mitigate the damage to the tributaries to McNutt Creek on his shopping center site at his Greene County bank.

The Greene County site lies in the Oconee River watershed, meeting current Corps requirements, but it is south of Oconee County, meaning benefit of the stream and wetland restoration there is minimal for Oconee County.

The state purchased mitigation credits in Jackson and Hall counties, upstream from Oconee, to offset damage it is doing to the McNutt Creek tributaries in construction of the Oconee Connector Extension.

Construction of the Connector, which will serve as the entranceway to shopping center Bishop is developing, is currently in its initial stages.

Both Oconee and Walton counties currently are in the process of working through the mitigation for construction of the Hard Labor Creek reservoir in Walton County, on which they are partners. The reservoir will flood wetlands and adversely affect buffers of the Apalachee River, from which water will be drawn to fill the reservoir.

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