The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board on Tuesday is scheduled to begin discussion of preliminary design for the water treatment and water transmission facilities--the next stage in making the reservoir now filling in southeast Walton County something more than a pretty lake.
The Board will discuss cost estimates for obtaining a schematic design for the facility and for design development details. The estimated total cost of the work is $1.7 million.
It also is scheduled to discussion acceleration of a future implementation schedule for the treatment plant needed to make the water drinkable and the transmission facilities needed to get the water to customers in Oconee and Walton counties.
The two counties will have to borrow additional money to treat and distribute the water from the 1,370-acre reservoir, which is expected to reach full pool in 2017.
Jimmy Parker, project manager for the Hard Labor Creek reservoir, told the Board at its meeting on March 24 that he felt it was time to begin discussion of the next stage.
Parker said neither county today has an “imminent need for additional water supply,” but he said “some catalyst or some event” could push the two counties beyond their present capabilities. He explains in the video below.
“Something could come very quickly sooner than later that needs a high volume of water and we’d be setting here behind,” Kevin Little, vice-chairman of the Board and Walton County Commission chairman, said in support of Parker’s suggestion.
The Board gave Parker authorization to seek estimates for partial design work for the tratement plant and distribution system.
The meeting was held at the historic Walton County Courthouse in Monroe. Oconee County has three representatives on the seven-member Board.
Project Progress Report
Parker told the Board members at that meeting that 161 of the 168 parcels needed for the reservoir had been acquired. The agenda released for the meeting on Tuesday indicates that the same seven parcels remain under negotiation or awaiting acquisition.
Parker said clearing of land for the reservoir was complete, and the concrete riser structure for the water intake facility was 99 percent complete.
The earthen dam itself was 98 percent complete, Parker said, and the labyrinth weir/chute spillway was 80 percent complete.
The agenda for the Tuesday meeting lists the concrete riser still at 99 percent completion and the earthen dam at 98 percent completion, but the labyrinth weir/chute spillway now is 85 percent complete.
The Tuesday meeting is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m and again will be held in the Courthouse in Monroe. I did not attend the meeting on March 24. Sarah Bell did and made the video recording used above.
The budget released to the Board by Parker at the March meeting shows the two counties have spent $74.3 million on the reservoir and are obligated for another $6.4 million for work under contract.
This brings the total cost for the construction of the reservoir at $80.7 million.
Construction of the reservoir represents less than half of the initial cost estimate of the project, however, and, if that estimate holds, another $89.6 million still needs to be raised to cover the total cost of $170.3 million.
A second phase of the project, which would involve piping water from the Apalachee River for storage in the reservoir, is not reflected in the current budgets for the project.
Oconee County Costs
Based on the agreement between the two counties, Oconee County is to receive 29 percent of the water from the reservoir and is obligated to cover 29 percent of the costs.
Oconee County had to put in more money initially because Walton County had spent $11.3 million prior to when the two counties joined on the project, and Oconee County agreed to cover the costs of $19.5 million in bonds in 2008.
In addition, the county is responsible for 29 percent ($9.2 million) of the $32 million in state loans the two counties have received for the reservoir construction.
Costs of the loans for the Hard Labor Creek reservoir have been a major factor in the series of rate increases that county water and sewer customers have experienced in recent years.
County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas has asked the Board of Commissioners to approve rate increases of 3 percent for water and sewer services for this coming year.
As of the end of February, the county had 9,784 water customers and 2,034 sewer customers.
The burden of financing the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir project, as well as other water and sewer projects in the county, falls on these customers, rather than on all of the residents of the county.
The Utility Department is required to raise and pay its own costs without revenue from the county general fund.
In the past, most water customers were residential, not commercial. The county has residential sewer customers but has a policy at present of restricting new sewer services to commercial and industrial customers.
The discussion at the Board meeting in March was not about future residential customers but about industrial users, and the reservoir was presented as an infrastructure project for the economic development needs of the two counties.
Oconee County Commissioner Jim Luke, chair of the Hard Labor Creek Management Board, said the county is concerned about being reading to move forward with construction of the treatment plant and distribution system to meet those needs.
“Right now, I don’t think any of us have a real good idea how long it would take if we had a big project,” Luke said. “We don’t even know how long to tell those folks how long it would be.”