Sunday, September 22, 2013

Oconee And Walton Counties To Hold Hard Labor Creek Groundbreaking Ceremony Oct. 4

Gov. Deal Expected

The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board has decided to hold an official reservoir groundbreaking ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 4 at or near the reservoir intake construction site on Social Circle-Fairplay Road in Walton County.

Invited guests will include Gov. Nathan Deal, though Project Manager Jimmy Parker told me on Wednesday that the governor’s office has asked that the governor’s attendance not be included in any formal press releases.

Parker said the governor’s office has confirmed the Oct. 4 date, but “his schedule is always subject to change in case of emergencies.”

The Management Board spent nearly half of its regular meeting on Tuesday at the Walton County Government Building in Monroe talking about the groundbreaking ceremony. It agreed to hire an event planner to help Parker manage the activity.

During the part of the meeting open to the general public, the Board heard updates on relocation of roadways and of the Georgia Transmission Corporation’s power lines. The Board went into executive session to discuss land acquisition matters after the public meeting, which lasted just less than 70 minutes.

Project Manager Parker told the Board that 99 percent of the land for the project is acquired or under contract, including all of the land needed for the reservoir pool itself.

Costs Unclear

The Board did not set any limits on the costs of the groundbreaking ceremony, but several members said the $40,000 spent for the groundbreaking ceremony for Healthcare conglomerate Baxter International Inc. was more than they hoped they would have to pay. Baxter is building a plant on the line between Newton and Walton counties.

Oconee County Commissioner Jim Luke said the Management Board is “going to be off the radar for a while after this event” because construction will drag on without much dramatic happening. Luke is chairman of the Management Board.

"It is my suggestion that we not be too budget tight on this so we end up with a good event,” Luke said.

The full comment by Luke is in the video clip below, which lasts 37 seconds. Luke speaks softly, and, even with the sound amplified in this clip, he is sometimes hard to hear.

Deal Central In Discussion

Most of the comments about the event focused on the desire to accommodate Gov. Deal, who in 2011 announced a commitment of $300 million over four years for reservoir and water supply development as part of what he termed a Georgia Water Supply Program.

Walton and Oconee counties, which are jointly building the reservoir in southeastern Walton County, have received loans of $32 million from the state for the project.

The first phase of the project is expected to cost $170 million. At present, the Board only has money, even with the loans, to build the dam, not a treatment plant or the water distribution system.

Board members said the priority for the groundbreaking ceremony should be creation of an appropriate backdrop so media pictures of the event highlight the scope of the project and the work already done on it.

Three Sites Under Consideration

Board members discussed three settings for the grounding breaking ceremony, including the site of construction on the intake facility and two nearby farms.

No decision was made on Tuesday.

The logistics of getting the dignitaries close enough to the actual construction site was of concern to Parker and others. It probably would be necessary to put down gravel for a roadway if the site itself is used, Parker said.

An option considered is bringing equipment and even some workers to the site of the ceremony to serve as an appropriate background for the pictures taken. Another option was taking pictures of the construction site to use as background.

Parker said Gov. Deal and his assistants probably will arrive by helicopter, requiring a landing pad or site of some type.

Guest List Discussed

Board members estimated the final guest list would include about 150 individuals, including representatives of both counties, local legislators, and Reservoir Management Board members.

Parker reminded the Board that the project started in 1992 in Walton County, so the list of commissioners and others involved over the years is long. Oconee County joined the project only in 2007.

No one discussed inviting the general public to the groundbreaking ceremony.

I sent an email to Parker on Wednesday evening asking if the public would be invited. He has not responded.

Both counties were to create an invitation list and forward it to Parker by the end of the day on Friday. Parker said at the meeting on Tuesday he hoped to send out invitations Monday (tomorrow).

Event Planner Needed

Parker, who also is vice president of Precision Planning Inc. of Lawrenceville, said he and his colleagues were engineers, and he recommended that the Management Board hire an event planner to help with the groundbreaking ceremony.

Parker said he had received from an event planner a list of things such a person would handle for the ceremony, some of which he had not even thought about.

In the video clip below, Parker reads from that list. The clip takes just less than a minute and gives a sense of the scope of the planned ceremony. Parker urged the Board to select and hire the event planner quickly.

Parker also outlined at the meeting on Tuesday a tentative program for the ceremony. The centerpiece is the comments of Gov. Deal.

Gov. Deal will be coming to Walton County for a second groundbreaking later that day, Parker said. Monroe-based Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas Inc. is expanding its operations in Walton County.

These kinds of events play an important role for an incumbent office holder. Dalton Mayor David Pennington and State Superintendent John Barge have announced they will challenge Gov. Deal in his re-election bid.

Road And Transmission Line

Representatives of the Georgia Transmission Corporation told the Management Board in the first part of the meeting on Tuesday that they had completed about two-thirds of the required relocation of the electrical lines and were moving forward with the remainder.

Parker told the Board that the relocation of the Social Circle-Fairplay Road was progressing and will be completed by March of 2015.

Relocation of the Mount Paron Church Road is expected to be completed by April of next year.

Construction of the reservoir dam is to be completed by January of 2015, Parker said, with the construction of the intake facility to be completed by August of 2014. Neither will be held up as negotiations proceed on the small amount of additional land needed for the project, according to Parker.

The intake facility is being constructed before the reservoir begins to fill though no firm plans exist for actually drawing water from the reservoir, since neither county needs the water at present.

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