Two Oconee county citizen groups have organized meetings to discuss water and sewer issues in the county, and a third citizen group has sent a letter to local and state officials calling for an environmentally and culturally sensitive route for a Bishop Bypass.
A group of residents who live along Calls Creek has set up a meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. on March 28 at the Oconee County Library with Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie to discuss the proposed sewer line down that creek.
Oconeewaters, a group formed last year to monitor streams in the county, has asked its members and others to attend the March 28 meeting as well as another meeting it has set up with Haynie for a broader update of water and sewer plans for the county.
That meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on March 31 and also will be at the Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road.
Positively Oconee, a loosely organized group that has been focusing initially on the widening of U.S. 441 and its impact on the south of the county, has sent a letter to Oconee County’s legislative delegation in Atlanta, officials at the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.
The group is advocating for a bypass of Bishop that is close to the city and for a widening of U.S. 441 in a way that is sensitive to the environmental, historical, cultural and archaeological resources of the county.
Senate Bill 346
A bill pending before the Georgia House of Representatives has particular significance to the issues raised in the Positively Oconee letter, and a number of email messages on the topic from people active in Positively Oconee and in Oconeewaters have circulated in recent days. (I have been involved with both groups and get email from both.)
The bill, which was initiated in the Senate, would exempt the Georgia Department of Transportation from the provisions of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act. Senate Bill 346 passed that body on Feb. 29 by a vote of 36 to 15.
GDOT and local officials have said in meetings with local citizens that the U.S. 441 widening would follow the provisions of the Georgia Environmental Policy Act.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, who was at one of those meetings and represents Oconee County in the Senate, voted with the majority.
The House Transportation Committee on Monday approved a substitute bill that includes the statement that the Georgia Environmental Policy Action “shall not be applicable” to GDOT projects of under $100 million but says that an environmental evaluation shall be considered in the decision-making process.”
The House, as of Wednesday, had taken no action on the Transportation Committee report.
The letter that Positively Oconee sent to state and local asked them to maximize use of existing right of way in widening U.S. 441 from Watkinsville to the Morgan County line.
The group said that GDOT should pick a route for a bypass of Bishop that is close enough to the historic community to assist its economic development and should avoid routes that would damage or divide working farms.
“The route chosen should avoid or minimize deforestation and wetland transgression,” the group said in its letter, and it “should minimize cost to the taxpayers of Georgia.”
Positively Oconee has no leadership structure. Lisa Douglas from outside Bishop is listed as the contact person in the letter.
Friends Of Calls Creek
Jim and Cindy McGarvey and Tony Greco have been the organizers of the Friends of Calls Creek meeting on March 28 with Utility Department Director Haynie.
The three live along the creek, which flows from Watkinsville through a number of subdivisions before reaching the Middle Oconee River just upstream from where Simonton Bridge Road crosses the river.
On Feb. 5, Haynie sent owners of property near or adjacent to Calls Creek a letter saying that engineers and surveyors will be “walking possible sewer route alternatives and collecting the necessary survey data.”
The county is considering running the line down the creek as a way of allowing it to expand the existing sewage treatment plant outside Watkinsville on Calls Creek from its current .667 million gallons per day of treatment capacity to 3 million gallons per day.
Greco had questioned Haynie about the quality of effluent from the proposed plant on Calls Creek before the Board of Commissioners early last month.
The McGarvey’s had contacted me after I posted about these plans, and I suggested they ask for a meeting with Haynie.
Vicki Soutar, who led efforts to establish Oconeewaters as a chapter of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network last year, sent out an agenda for the March 31 meeting that included an update from Haynie on the Calls Creek wastewater facility as well as a discussion of water and wastewater master plans
She also has invited Erin Carlton, wastewater utility supervisor, to the meeting.
At Soutar’s suggestion, Haynie organized and Carlton led a tour of the Calls Creek plant in December.
The agenda for the March 31 meeting also includes a discussion of stream sites in the county now being monitored by the group as well as local workshops on biological and chemical monitoring programs.