Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oconee County Citizen Committee Says No to Mitigation Resolution

A White Paper from Greene

The Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning voted overwhelmingly last night not to recommend that the Board of Commissioners pass a resolution before it stating the county’s preference for mitigation of damage to stream and wetlands in the county with restoration in the county.

The committee took the action after hearing from developer Frank Bishop, who is mitigating damage to streams and wetlands on the site of his proposed shopping center on Epps Bridge Parkway in Oconee County on property he purchased in Greene County north of Greensboro.

The committee also heard from Gregory Smith, vice president of Wildlands, which lists on its web site for sale available stream and wetland credits for Bishop’s site, Greensboro MB, LLC.

In addition, the committee was given a letter written to BOC Chairman Melvin Davis on August 24, 2009, from the Georgia Environmental Restoration Association (GERA) asking the county not to pass the resolution because it would place "a preference on mitigation actions performed only within Oconee County or within the watershed above Oconee County."

The resolution, drafted by Katie Sheehan, a staff attorney in the Odum School of Ecology’s River Basin Center at the University of Georgia, asks the BOC to state just that preference to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for destruction of streams and wetlands and determines where the mitigation for that destruction can take place.

Sheehan drafted the resolution after I had posted several stories on this site about the mitigation process involving Bishop’s proposed Epps Bridge Centre, to be built near Lowe’s on Epps Bridge Parkway. The development will pave over and fill streams and wetlands feeding into McNutt Creek.

I asked the Board of Commissioners to consider the resolution back in April, and the Board sent the resolution to the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee for review. The committee put the item on the agenda after I appeared before it on Aug. 11 and asked that it take up the matter.

Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan scheduled discussion of the resolution for last night. I was returning from a business trip outside the country and could not attend.

Sheehan presented the resolution to the committee. Tim Price, vice president of Friends of Barber Creek, spoke in favor of the resolution on behalf of the five-person board of directors of the organization, of which I am president.

Abouhamdan told me this morning that he did not know how many people voted in favor of the motion not to recommend the resolution to the BOC, but he thought it was about eight members. He said two voted against the resolution.

The committee, appointed by the BOC, has 14 members.

Bob Isaac told me this evening he was one of those members voting against the motion and that Frank Watson was the other.

Abouhamdan said the objections of the committee members were that mitigation should be in terms of the water basin, not just the county, that the Corps of Engineers would not listen to the county regardless of what it said, that the county’s involvement would just add another layer of government to the mitigation process, and that the prices of mitigation credits could become too expensive if only county sites were considered.

Wayne Provost, strategic and long-range planning director for the county, who attended, also could not remember how many committee members were present. He said official minutes were taken by member Courtney Gale, whom I have been unable to reach this evening.

Provost said the resolution assumes that mitigation inside the county was more helpful than mitigation outside and this might not be true. He also said that if mitigation was required inside the county those with credits "could charge whatever they wanted" and that would be at odds with the economic development goals of the county.

He said there also was a "fairness concern" raised since businesses operating in Oconee County would be required to do something not required in other counties.

He also said "it is not clear how the Corps (of Engineers) would react."

Provost said that prior to the meeting the county sent to the members a copy of the resolution, a short biographic note on Sheehan, comments she had made when she presented the resolution to the BOC on April 21, a blog I had written about that meeting, the GERA letter to Davis, and a "White Paper" on wetland mitigation prepared by Bishop. (Provost provided all of these to me this afternoon.)

Provost said he contacted Bishop and asked for a response to the draft resolution.

"I asked them, here is the resolution. Give me your take on it."

The Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee is only advisory, and the BOC could still take up the resolution if it wished.

Chairman Davis attended the meeting but did not speak, according to Sheehan and Abouhamdan.

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