Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rose Creek Mitigation Bank Seeking Variance To Work On Oconee County Restoration Project

Holds Easement For Site

Rose Creek Mitigation Bank, one of two such banks operating in the county, is awaiting a state permit to be able to violate the 25-foot stream buffer so it can modify restoration work done in initially setting up the bank.

James Parker, manager of Falling Springs, an environmental resource company in Richmond, Va., told me in a telephone conversation on Feb. 5 that his company is being “proactive” in asking the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for permission to modify the existing restoration structures.

“We want to tweak some things,” Parker said. “We want to fix what seem to be minor problems.”

Rose Creek at Mitigation Site 2/16/2013

Peggy Chambers, environmental specialist at the EPD responsible for the project, similarly described the project as a minor one.

Public notice about the buffer variance permit request appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Oconee Enterprise, the legal organ for Oconee County, and interested citizens have until Feb. 25 to comment, Micheal Berry, also of the EPD, told me by telephone yesterday.

Goat Farm Credits Available Too

Parker said Falling Springs took over operation of the Rose Creek Mitigation Bank in 2010 and has sold about 15 percent of the total stream credits from the site.

Owners of mitigation banks restore damaged streams and wetlands and then sell credits for the work they have done to developers, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and others who want to pipe, fill or otherwise damage streams and wetlands for some purpose.

Developers and others need a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to alter the streams and wetlands.

The mitigation banks are regulated by Corps. In order to do the restoration work in Georgia, the bank operator also needs a permit to violate the 25-foot state buffer on streams.

A second bank operating in the county is on a tributary of the Apalachee River just southeast of where the river is crossed by U.S. 78 and is called Goat Farm Mitigation Bank.

According to the Corps database, that bank also has unsold stream and wetlands credits available.

State Permit for Structure Modification

According to EPD documents, Parker is asking for permission to modify three existing stream mitigation structures “that are not functioning as planned.” The estimated length of time of the disturbance to the stream will be less than 12 weeks.

The plan is to modify existing log and rock structures put into the stream to slow down and otherwise control the flow of water, restoring the stream to something approaching its natural state.

Parker said the restoration is not on Rose Creek itself, but a tributary to Rose Creek.

The area had been farmed, and the stream had been damaged in the farming process. Rose Creek has been dredged and straightened over the years to provide additional land for farming.

Falling Springs Replaced ATKEL

ATKEL Development Company created the Rose Creek Mitigation Bank in 2009 on two pieces of land totaling160 acres in the very southern part of the county on SR 15. In 2010, ATKEL sold both parcels, according to county tax records.

The larger tract, consisting of 97 acres, currently is owned by Johnnie Robinson and Melissa Barton of Monroe.

The second, a 62-acre tract, is owned by Fred H. Simonton of Gainesville.

Parker said Falling Springs has an easement on the Simonton tract giving Falling Springs access to the stream and the mitigation site. Simonton will not be able to modify the mitigation work or the landscape around it, Parker said, but Simonton otherwise has full use of the property.

Epps Bridge Centre Needed Credits

Frank Bishop, the Atlanta developer of Epps Bridge Centre, the $76 million shopping center now under construction on the Oconee Connector Extension and Epps Bridge Parkway, bought land in Greene County to develop a mitigation bank to offset damage he has done to streams and wetlands on his site.

Epps Bridge Centre 9/30/2012

Those streams and wetlands feed McNutt Creek, which forms a border between Clarke and Oconee counties east of the shopping center.

During the construction, Bishop piped and filled most of those streams, leaving only a small wetland area.

Bishop told the Oconee County Planning Commission he had sought land in Oconee County to do his mitigation work but concluded the land was too expensive.

His site, on SR 15 south of the Rose Creek Mitigation Bank, is selling stream and wetland credits in competition with the Rose Creek and Goat Farms banks.

Rose Creak Flows Through County Center

Rose Creek originates in the center of the county, west of the dormant Pebble Creek Subdivision.

From there it flows south, under the Elder Mill covered bridge, and ultimately joins the Oconee River where Oconee, Greene and Oglethorpe counties meet.

Rose Creek Near Covered Bridge 4/10/2010

Sections of the creek are quite remote, and the county at one point was considering a park on the creek that would include the covered bridge and nearby mill.

Those plans never got off the ground, and all the land and the mill remain in private hands.

Fish Count Up

Oconee County’s streams, including Rose Creek, have been badly damaged by farming and farming practices over the years.

The web site for the Goat Farm Mitigation Bank states that “Georgia farmers thought nothing of rerouting natural streams and destroying wetlands in order to enhance their farming activities.”

A farmer cut a 2,000 foot ditch bypass to a natural stream in order to drain his land for crops on the site of the Goat Farm Mitigation Bank, according to web site. The goal of the mitigation work is to “restore the natural stream,” the site states.

Parker told me that the Rose Creek tributary where the restoration work was done was “devoid of aquatic” life before the restoration.

Fish counts showed “that there was nothing there,” he said. “Now there is.”

Oconee River Land Trust

While the land for the Rose Creek Mitigation Bank will remain in private hands, the web site for the Goat Farm Mitigation Bank states that 167 acres of land involved “have been placed into a land conservation program in perpetuity.”

The site says the land will be overseen by the non-profit Oconee River Land Trust.

Steffney Thompson, executive director of the Oconee River Land Trust, told me on Feb. 7 that the Trust indeed has been talking to the owners of the Goat Farm Mitigation Bank and “is ready to hold the conservation easement.”

The project, however, is not yet completed, she said.

Comments Go To EPD

Anyone wishing to comment on the variance request for the Rose Creek Mitigation Bank should send those comments to the Program Manager, Nonpoint Source Program, Erosion and Sedimentation Control Unit, 4220 International Parkway, Suite 101, Atlanta, 30354.

The public can review site plans at Baseline Surveying and Engineering, 31 N. Main Street, Watkinsville.

The Rose Creek bank is being operated by Rose Creek Mitigation LLC. That entity lists its address in the Georgia Secretary of State database as that of Falling Springs in Richmond.

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