Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis said today (Tuesday) that he is open to bringing the decision on whether to build a sewer line down Calls Creek up for action before he leaves the Board in January.
In an email message to Jim McGarvey, president of Friends of Calls Creek, Davis said “I do not have any issues with the current Board of Commissioners acting” on sewer issues, even though Commissioner Jim Luke is retiring in January and will be replaced and one slot on the Board is vacant.
Davis’ willingness to go forward with a vote on the sewer pipeline and other sewer issues before January puts pressure on opponents and proponents of the sewer pipeline to influence the outcome of the special election now underway to fill the vacant position on the Board.
Commission candidate Chuck Horton has said he is opposed to the Calls Creek sewer line and will not vote to condemn property to run the sewer line down the creek.
Candidate Ben Bridges initially did not take a stand on the sewer line but said last week that “the last thing” he wants to do is condemn property for the project. Many landowners have said they will not sell the needed easements, which would force the county into condemnation.
Candidate Marcus Wiedower has said he will not vote to go forward with the sewer line until other options have been considered.
Early voting continued at a fast pace today, with another 575 persons casting a ballot on top of the 583 yesterday, bringing to 1,158 the number of voters who have cast their ballots in the first two days of early voting. That 1,158 represents 4.2 percent of the 27,845 registered voters in the county.
Importance Of Election
If one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 8 special election, that candidate could be seated on the Commission almost immediately and could join sitting Commission members Luke, Mark Saxon and William “Bubber” Wilkes.
If none of the three candidates gets a majority on Nov. 8, a runoff between the two top candidates will be held on Dec. 6, after which the successful candidate can join the Commission.
Davis votes only in the case of a tie, which would occur with a three-person Commission only if one of the commissioners recuses himself.
With a four-person Commission, Davis would get a chance to vote if the new Commission member found one other ally who wanted to go forward with the pipeline or any other decision on the future of the county’s wastewater treatment facility.
McGarvey wrote to Davis on Oct. 14 saying that he had spoken with incoming BOC Chair John Daniell, incoming Post 1 Commissioner Mark Thomas, and candidates Bridges, Horton and Wiedower after the candidate forum the night before.
McGarvey told Davis he had asked each of them if the current Board should “delay making any sewage system decisions until the new Board of Commissioners begins its term in January 2017?”
McGarvey said four had said the Board should delay making a decision, and one said he didn’t thank any decision would be made until 2017.
McGarvey didn’t say more specifically how the five had answered.
“With the above answers in mind, the Friends of Calls Creek poses the same question to you,” McGarvey wrote to Davis. “Will you abide with the sentiments of the incoming BOC members and permit the 2017 Oconee County Board of Commission to make the decisions that will be their responsibility and will impact their tenures?”
Davis said in his email response that he didn’t know if the Utility Department or its consultants will have enough information to act by Dec. 31.
“If they do, I do not have an issue with the current Board of Commissioners acting on any issue,” Davis wrote.
“This Board of Commissioners were elected to serve the citizens of Oconee County until December 31, 2016 when their term ends,” Davis continued.
“ All five members of the Board were elected during the past four years with one resigning his post position to run for the to be vacant Chair position. I also am confident that when information is presented to the current Board, those who are newly elected will be exposed to the same information.
“With that being stated, I am ready to fulfill my obligation to the citizens of Oconee County and act on any issue brought to the Board of Commissioners,” Davis wrote. Davis controls the agenda for the Board.
“You do recall, that in Oconee County, the Chair only votes in case of a tie,” Davis said. “With three sitting commissioners, I am aware that I may not have a vote on any issue unless a Commissioner recuses himself due to a conflict of interest or is absent from the Board meeting.”
Friends Of Calls Creek
McGarvey had sent his letter to Davis to the Friends of Calls Creek, a group he helped organize, early this morning.
He sent out the reply from Davis this afternoon.
Friends of Calls Creek has been vocal in its opposition to the county’s plans to run a sewer pipeline down Calls Creek as a means of getting treated sewer water to the Middle Oconee River.
The county operates a treatment plant on a ridge about Calls Creek on the northern edge of Watkinsville.
I asked each of the three BOC candidates in one-on-one interviews I did late last month what each would do if the county did not get permission from the state Environment Protection Division to discharge additional treated waste into Calls Creek.
The EPD denied that request in a letter dated Sept. 23, 2016, but the letter had not been made public when I did the interviews.
The responses of the three candidates are pulled together in the video clip below, starting with Bridges, followed by Horton and then Wiedower. That is the order in which the candidates scheduled their interviews.
The question I asked of all three is at the front of the interview with Bridges only.
I did not eliminate any part of the response of the three candidates. The slight gap in the middle of the Wiedower interview results from the camera completing one file and starting another.
Moderator Charles Bullock did not ask the candidates specifically how they would vote on the sewer line at the forum on Oct. 13, but he did ask about sewer capacity.
In his response to Bullock, Horton said he would not condemn property to put the sewer line down Calls Creek.
Bridges said condemning property was the last thing he wanted to do and he would try to find alternatives.
Wiedower did not mention the Calls Creek sewer line in his answer.
The video of the responses of the candidates is below.
I have created a channel on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site that includes the complete video of the Candidate Forum on Oct. 13 and of the interviews with the three candidates.
Other videos related to the Nov. 8 election also are on the channel.
It is available HERE.