Oconee County is likely to make a decision on expansion of its Calls Creek sewage treatment plant and on whether to run a pipeline down Calls Creek for treated effluent early next month.
The commissioners who opposed the solar energy farm proposed for Dials Mill Road in the northwest of the county were concerned about the project’s impact on surrounding residential neighborhoods and were not opposed to alternative energy sources.
Though the county initiated a study of transportation congestion on SR 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway because of former Chairman Melvin Davis’ support for a flyover to connect Daniells Bridge Road with that traffic corridor, the Commission might go forward with the study to understand transportation issues more generally.
The Board of Commissioners is divided on the value of creating a citizen oversight committee to monitor spending of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue in the county.
These are some of the things that the 35 people who turned out last (Tuesday) night for a Town Hall meeting called by the Board of Commissioners at the Community Center in Veterans Park learned from responses to questions posed on issues facing the county.
The commissioner prior to the meeting last night had announced they will hold a work session from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Jan. 18 at the Community Center in Veterans Park to hear a report from county Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie and to discuss water and sewer issues in the county.
In response to a question from Cindy Mitchell McGarvey, 1170 Grace Lane off Simonton Bridge Road east of Watkinsville, new Commission Chair John Daniell said that Haynie’s presentation on the 18th will deal with water and sewer demand as well as water and sewer rates.
Daniell said Haynie will come to the Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Jan. 31 and say “What he has learned and where he thinks we’re headed.”
Haynie “has looked at a lot of alternatives to down the creek,” Daniell said. “All of those will be presented, and we’ll just have to take time to digest that and make the best decision for the whole county.”
“There won’t we any action until the 2nd,” Daniell told McGarvey, who is one of the organizers of Friends of Calls Creek, whose members oppose construction of a pipeline through the neighborhoods along Calls Creek.
Solar Energy Farm
At its meeting on Jan. 3, the Commission voted 3-1 to turn down a request for a special use to allow for a 30 megawatt solar energy farm on 204.8 acres at the intersection of McNutt Creek Road and Dials Mill Road.
|Saxon, Left, And Thomas|
Robert Wyatt, 1090 Apalachee Trace in the Lane Creek subdivision in the west of the county, asked the commissioners to explain that vote. (The question and answers starts at 13:35 in the embedded video at the bottom of this post.)
Mark Thomas, who voted against the denial, and thus in favor of the proposal, was the first to respond, and he said he was in favor of renewable energy, but he did recognize that there are downsides to solar, such as its inability to generate electricity at some of the peak times of need.
Commissioner Mark Saxon said he, too, favored renewable energy, but he said the location was the problem. “I just felt this pocket was a residential pocket,” he said, explaining his negative vote.
Saxon said he looked at the county’s land use map “and I didn’t feel that was a spot” for the solar energy farm.
Commissioner Chuck Horton, who also voted against the solar farm, said he was not opposed to solar power, but, “To begin with, I look at the comp plan, and to me it didn’t fit.” The county’s comprehensive plan specifies appropriate land use throughout the county.
Horton said the project “was a major business” that stretched over 200 acres in the residential area.
“When you have to buffer, as much as I heard was going to have to be buffered, in an agricultural area, that’s certainly a question I’ve got,” Horton said.
Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes, the third no vote, also said he wasn’t against solar power, but “You’ve got a residential section that’s going down all one side of that solar power farm.”
“I think there’s got to be another place for it,” Wilkes said
Daniell A Supporter
The Commission Chair does not vote unless there is a tie, so Daniell had given no indication of his stand at the Jan. 3 meeting.
|Horton, Left, And Wilkes|
Daniell told those at the Town Hall meeting that, from a cost-benefit analysis “I thought it was a good project.”
“There was no impact to the school system. There was no impact to the road,” Daniell said. He said he felt the buffers were adequate to protect the neighboring residential areas.
“Now what’s going to happen is all of that’s going to be residential,” Daniell said. “You got 200 acres. You could have 200 houses with septic tanks right there on Barber Creek. In long term, is that really what we want to do?”
Former Commission Chair Melvin Davis had been the matchmaker for the project, putting the developer and land owner in contact and then getting the Commission to change the Unified Development Code to allow for solar farms on agricultural land.
Daniell and Saxon said they didn’t know about Davis’ behind-the-scenes efforts when they voted to approve the change in the county zoning ordinance.
Daniells Bridge Road Flyover
At its meeting on Nov. 1 of last year, the Commission delayed a decision on a transportation study of the SR 316 and Epps Bridge Parkway corridor to give the new Board, which took over on Jan. 1, a chance to further study the project.
Though the proposed extension of Daniells Bridge Road to fly over SR Loop 10 and connect with the stub of the Oconee Connector at Home Depot was not mentioned at the Nov. 1 meeting, bidders were well aware of the proposed flyover.
Former Chairman Davis was a strong proponent of the flyover and was the driving force behind the effort to initiate the study.
Daniell conceded at the meeting last night that the flyover was at the center of the request for proposals for the study, but he said staff had managed to get a proposal that focused more widely on transportation issues along the whole corridor.
Daniell told John Chenhall, 1201 Beverly Drive, in Welbrook Farms subdivision off Daniells Bridge Road, that the Board would consider funding the study at some point in the future. (I also live in Welbrook Farms subdivision.)
Daniell reassured Chenhall that the higher priority for the county was a grade-separated interchange for SR 316 and the Oconee Connector.
Farmland activist Russ Page, 1080 Victoria Crossing, east of Watkinsville, was the first audience member to speak last night, and he raised a long list of issues with the Board, including request that a citizen committee be formed to provide oversight on SPLOST spending.
When no one responded, Wyatt came back to the microphone near the end of the 90-minute session and asked for responses from the Commission.
“I’m not sold on another committee for SPLOST,” Daniell said. He said the Commission should make the decisions on its own, though he did say there is a need for more communication with the citizens.
Wilkes said he agreed with Daniell.
“I probably would entertain a group,” Horton said, and he said the Board needs to do a better job of explaining the status of the projects listed on the SPLOST referendum.
Thomas said he was “not opposed” to having a citizen committee.
“I’m not for a committee at all,” Saxon said. He said citizens had input when the project list was put together. “I’m not saying I can’t be swayed another way,” Saxon said.
A total of 12 audience members spoke at the Town Hall Meeting.
Page and Wyatt also each took the microphone twice.
Other concerns raised included a code of ethics for citizen committee members, beautification of Mars Hill Road when construction is completed, development in Bogart, and recreational open space in the county.
The complete video of the session is below.