Sunday, November 22, 2009

Oconee BOC to Get Report from Land Use Committee

Finding Katie Who?

The Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning is scheduled to make a report Tuesday night to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on its work over the last year, including its review of a resolution on stream and wetland mitigation and its consideration of options for expansion of the courthouse.

The report is the fourth item on the agenda for the BOC meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the courthouse in Watkinsville.

The agenda released just before 4 p.m. on Friday by Commission Clerk Gina Lindsey does not give any indication of the nature of the report, but Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan confirmed tonight that he plans to report on the committee’s action on a proposed mitigation resolution before it and on the committee’s discussion of options for the courthouse.

The BOC meeting is the regular agenda-setting session.

The Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee voted on Nov. 10 not to recommend to the BOC that it pass a resolution that would put the county on record as favoring mitigation of damage to streams and wetlands in the county with restoration within the county or upstream from the county.

Abouhamdam said that the report will not offer any recommendation on what to do about the courthouse, as the committee has not yet completed its review.

The committee made its decision not to recommend passage of the resolution on mitigation after Frank Bishop, developer of the planned Epps Bridge Centre on Epps Bridge Parkway, appeared before it on Nov. 10.

Contrary to what was reported in the Nov. 19 issue of The Oconee Enterprise, however, the committee was not reviewing Bishop’s mitigation plans for that project.

Under the headline "Developer gets OK on wetland plans," Editor Blake Giles wrote that the committee decided that "developer Frank Bishop will not have to adjust his stream mitigation plans."

The committee was not reviewing Bishop’s mitigation plans. Bishop obtained his permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January, and the county has no authority to issue or modify such permits.

The resolution, if it were to be passed by the BOC in its present form, would state a preference on the part of the county for where mitigation takes place when permits are granted in the future for waters in the county. The Corps would not be obligated to follow that preference.

Specifically, the resolution would put Oconee County on record with the Corps as preferring that damage done to local streams and wetlands be mitigated by restoration of streams and wetlands in the county–or at least upstream from the county.

In April, I introduced the resolution, which was written by Katie Sheehan, a staff attorney in the Odum School of Ecology's River Basin Center at the University of Georgia, to the Board of Commissioners. The BOC referred it to the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee for review.

Sheehan explained the resolution to the committee at the Nov. 10 meeting.

Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long-range planning for the county, sought Bishop’s opinion on the resolution, and Bishop also spoke at the Nov. 10 meeting before the committee voted not to recommend the resolution.

According to Abouhamdan, among the concerns voiced by the committee was the possible increase in mitigation costs if the Corps required that mitigation be done on more expensive land in Oconee County as opposed to cheaper land elsewhere.

Abouhamdan told me tonight he still does not have a tally for the committee vote since he has not yet reviewed the committee minutes. He told me after the meeting he thought eight committee members had voted not to recommend the resolution and two voted in favor. The committee has 14 members.

Bishop bought land in Greene County and developed a mitigation bank there after looking at land in Oconee County and deciding it was too expensive, he has acknowledged.

That mitigation bank, called Greensboro MB, LLC, currently has stream and wetland credits available for purchase, according to the web site of Wildlands, which worked with Bishop to develop the site.

If the county were to pass the resolution, the Greensboro site could become less viable for future mitigation of stream disturbances in Oconee County.

The Georgia Environmental Restoration Association (GERA), which represents commercial mitigation banks, sent the county a letter opposing the resolution. Those banks also could be adversely affected if the Corps honored the resolution before the BOC.

The error in reporting what the Land Use and Transportation Committee was actually reviewing at the Nov. 10 meeting was only one of several in the report in the Enterprise.

The story said I requested that Bishop be required to mitigate in Oconee County. When I spoke before the BOC back in April, I specifically said I had waited to introduce the resolution until after Bishop had his permits and that the resolution was directed at future development.

The paper also said I live downstream from the Epps Bridge Centre site. Bishop received a permit to pipe and fill tributaries to McNutt Creek. I live on Barber Creek, several miles upstream from where it flows into McNutt Creek.

The story says the Epps Bridge Centre development "disturbed a stream" on the site. The Corps permit will allow Bishop to pipe and fill several streams on the site as well as fill wetlands.

It is a small point, but the story says I was in Egypt when the meeting took place. I was driving back from the Atlanta airport, having flown in from Egypt a few hours earlier.

Giles, who attended the Nov. 10 meeting, called me on at my office at the university on Nov. 12 and asked me to help him find Sheehan, whose last name, he said, he had forgotten. I told him how to find her at the River Basin Center.

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