Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie saved the slide that most of the 70 people in the audience at the Water Resources Town Hall Meeting last (Wednesday) night came to see until near the end of his nearly hour-long presentation.
It was quite clear once he showed the slide that most of the people in the audience didn’t like the message it contained.
The slide, according to Haynie and his consultants, showed that running a sewer line down Calls Creek is the most cost effective way of getting treated water from the county's Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant on the edge of Watkinsville to the Middle Oconee River.
People in the audience disputed the calculations and the assumptions that lie behind them, arguing that the disruption to the neighborhood and the creek itself was more important than any identified cost savings.
“We’ve got much, much work ahead,” Haynie said in closing his presentation. “But we think we’ve got the team in place to right the ship, get us caught up with the development, get us out ahead of it, and move things on down the way in a cost effective manner for our rate payers.”
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Then Haynie said he would welcome questions.
“I don’t need a microphone,” someone at the front of the room shouted out immediately. He did not identify himself.
The man said he spoken with Haynie earlier this year and "You gave me the impression that we’re going to weigh the options, have some discussions, and then decide what to do. It sounds like you have already made the plans. We’re going to do a gravity feed.”
“I said it was the most cost effective method of moving the wastewater,” Haynie said in response.
It was clear from the questions that followed over the next hour that many in the audience didn’t believe Haynie’s assertion that the final decision had not been made and would be a political one, made by the Board of Commissioners, not by him.
Team Of Presenters
Haynie invited five consultants employed by the county to assist him in the presentation, and they covered topics ranging from the quality of water in the county’s streams, the current demand for drinking water, plans for a new water tower, permitting and construction plans for an upgrade to the Calls Creek plant, and plans for new sewer lines in the county.
A little more than 45 minutes into the presentation, Jimmy Parker of Precision Planning Inc. of Monroe got to the question on the minds of most of those in the audience.
“So what happens beyond 1.5 mgd and the assimilative capacity of Calls Creek?” Parker asked.
The state has determined that the creek can only handle 1.5 million gallons per day of treated wastewater, but the county has said it wants to expand the existing plant to 3 million gallons per day in the near future and perhaps even more in the long term.
The county had proposed a gravity feed sewer line down the Calls Creek corridor, he reminded the group, but those present hardly needed that background.
The county looked at four alternatives, he said.
The first of these would follow much of a Georgia Power easement.
The second would follow Spartan Lane.
The third would follow Simonton Bridge Road.
The fourth would follow U.S. 441.
All four alternatives would require pumps, rather than simply gravity, Parker said.
Parker said his analysis showed that the gravity feed line would cost the most to build, at $4.6 million.
But the gravity alternative would have a 25-year-life-cycle-cost of only $4.8 million, he siad, compared with $5.9 million for the cheapest alternatives, the Georgia Power Line and Spartan Lane routes.
The 50-year-life-cycle costs showed even greater differences.
The gravity line would cost $5.2 million, while the cheapest alternative, the Simonton Bridge Road route, would cost $8.2 million.
“So based on our evaluation, and looking and O and M costs,” Parker said. “The gravity sewer option is the most efficient, long term, from an operation and maintenance standpoint.”
Much of the discussion in the hour after Haynie ended his presentation focused on that analysis, with many arguing that the cost differentials were trivial given the impact the project would have on the residential neighborhoods along the creek.
Jim McGarvey, president of Friends of Calls Creek, which has been fighting the pipeline proposal since it was first announced earlier this year, was most outspoken.
He said the project already had adversely affected home values in the neighborhoods along the creek and urged the county not to delay any longer its decision on which alternative would be chosen.
“Either let us know, so we can get the hell out of Oconee County,” McGarvey said. “Or go down 441 or do something else. You’ve got to tell the people.”
Haynie started the meeting by telling the audience that 2014 and 2015 where the “dark times” in the county, when the county had wastewater spills and “mechanical deficiencies at our plants.”
These problems are in the past, he said, because the county made some key hires, got assistance from outside experts, “and we’ve improved our plant operations.”
It is unlikely that Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis, soon–to-be-elected incoming Chairman John Daniell and Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes, in the audience, found talk of the “dark times” very pleasant. All were on the Commission during that period.
Commissioner Jim Luke and Commissioner Mark Saxon, also members of the Commission in 2014 and 2015, did not attend the meeting last night at the Community Center in Veterans’s Park.
Mark Thomas, whose name will be on the ballot in November to replace Luke, also was not at the meeting, but the three candidates for Post II on the Commission, Ben Bridges, Chuck Horton and Marcus Wiedower, were there.
Hard Labor Creek
Haynie made the surprising announcement that the county does not need the water collecting in Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in Walton County in the near or mid term.
The Board of Commissioners, over the objections of Horton, who was on the Commission from 2004 to 2012, and then Commissioner Margaret Hale, voted to join Walter County in that project.
Haynie said the county can get all the water it needs in the foreseeable future from the Bear Creek Reservoir.
The county is responsible for about $20 million in debt for the Hard Labor Creek reservoir project.
Video And PowerPoint
The county has put the PowerPoint presentation given by Haynie and his consultants at the meeting last night on its web site.
The video below is of the entire meeting. Sarah Bell assisted with the video recording.
Note: I added the phrase "in the near or mid term" to the end of the first line of the section on Hard Labor Creek to clarify that Haynie had NOT said the county would never need the water in the reservoir. I believe the sentence is misleading without this correction and apologize for the error.