Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s Sewer Line Likely to Be Resurrected after Oconee County Sewer Plan Vote

Water for Walton Controversial

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last night gave tentative approval to a list of water and sewer projects for the next two years that included an extension of a sewer line along McNutt Creek.

The Board didn’t determine which of three proposed segments of that sewer line it was funding, but Chris Thomas, Utility Department director, told me after the meeting he expects to start on the segment between Jennings Mill Road and an existing pump station near Epps Bridge Parkway.

That is the segment of the sewer line the BOC voted not to build on Aug. 2 of last year, when it was known as the Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s sewer line project.

The Board also voted to turn back $186,711 of federal funding on the grounds the project was not designed to serve Zoom Bait and St. Mary’s but rather facilitate development of the Gordy tract, a 114-acre parcel behind Wal-Mart and Lowe’s that Atlanta developer Frank Bishop had under option.

Thomas last night asked for $779,000 for the "extension of sewer lines or the upsizing of lines along the McNutts Creek Basin." He had estimated the cost of the Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s line last year at $780,000.

None of the commissioners asked Thomas what he planned to do with the $779,000 in his proposed Water and Sewer Improvement Plan for 2013 and 2014.

Horton, 1/24/2012

The BOC voted to put approval of the plan on the consent agenda for the Feb. 7 meeting, meaning it will be approved without comment unless one of the commissioners asks that it be taken off the consent agenda for discussion.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis was a proponent of the Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s project from its launch in 2009. The county told the state that the purpose of the project was to help employers of persons making low and moderate incomes, since such employers were targeted in the federal guidelines.

Zoom Bait and St. Mary’s, both on Jennings Mill Road near the Clarke County line, met those requirements.

The other four commissioners voted against the sewer line and decided to give the money back to the state, which was administering the federal grant program.

Thomas told me after the meeting that circumstances could change and he could end up recommending to the Board that it begin one of the other two segments before the one rejected by the Board last year.

He said it was unlikely he would propose going forward with the middle section, between Jennings Mill Road and Jimmy Daniell Road, however, since it is complex and expensive. He said the western most section, from near U.S. 78 to Mars Hill Road, could be his choice if developments in that area warranted it.

Thomas will have to come back to the Board for approval when the county issues a request for proposals for work on the McNutt Creek Sewer Extension project, and the Board could direct him to focus on another segment or even another project at that time.

While the Board did not object to Thomas’ proposal for WASI projects, Davis and commissioners Margaret Hale and Chuck Horton did ask questions about a separate proposal by Thomas to extend the existing water sales contract with Walton County.

Thomas asked the Board to allow him to continue to sell up to 500,000 gallons per day of water to Walton County.

The county earns a fixed minimum of $6,375 per month on the contract, Thomas said, and expects to get between $90,000 and $100,000 per year from the actual sales.

Hillcrest Well House, 1/29/2011
He said this was an important revenue source for the Utility Department.

The water comes from county wells, and Horton told Thomas that “I opposed it last year. I probably am going to do it again this year.”

The Oconee Enterprise quotes Horton in tomorrow’s edition (available to subscribers on the web tonight) as telling Thomas last night he had already made up his mind to oppose the contract extension, but I have listened to the audio in my video recording and that is not what Horton said.

Horton said he was willing to listen to Thomas’ arguments for the project, but he was “concerned” with “the amount of water we pull out” and sell to Walton County.

Horton said “I’m not an expert, but I know we don’t have the aquifers like south Georgia does. And there are lots of people around here, they rely on those wells.”

Horton also said the county actually was getting only about $59,000 per year once expenses are taken into consideration, and Thomas agreed with that calculation.

Thomas said the county gained by keeping the wells in operating condition. Most of the water comes from a well on Hillcrest Drive, just west of Butler’s Crossing.

County Clerk Gina Lindsey Hansford put the item on the regular, as opposed to the consent, agenda for the Feb. 7 meeting so it can be discussed again before the Board votes.

1 comment:

Xardox said...

The northern quarter of Oconee County will explode when the lid comes off of the economy. The elections this year are particularly important, nationally and locally.