Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Citizens At Oconee County Town Hall Meeting Told Decision On Calls Creek Sewer Pipeline Coming Soon

Solar Power Also Discussed

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.

Calls Creek

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.

Comprehensive Plan

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.

SPLOST Committee

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.

OCO: BOC 1 10 17 Town Hall Complete from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


barb carroll said...

dear lord, boc...make certain that haynie has included working with clarke county in his options for sewage treatment. this always has been the cheapest, most environmentally conscious, most residential-friendly option that has been given virtually no evaluation as clarke county made it clear that they couldn't work with melvin davis.

this is the best immediate solution on all dimensions and is consistent with the county's plans to build a middle oconee plant in the long run.

we must rely on you to ensure the protection of oconee county and its pocketbook.

Anonymous said...

It seems that SPLOST money is collected and sits in the bank an awfully long time in some cases. Is anyone doing oversight on that? I thought that might be what the proposed committee was to do.

Zippity said...

I agree, Anonymous. The Oconee Enterprise on 12/29 had a table on SPLOST. As I read it, there is over 2 million remaining from the 2004 (!) SPLOST, and 13 million from the 2009 SPLOST. Meanwhile the county has sewage, road, parks, etc needs. The commission was not spending the money has the voters anticipated. Perhaps this new commission will do better. But personally I will not vote for another SPLOST unless there is a citizen oversight committee. Athens/Clarke has one and they make much better use of their SPLOST money. What are you afraid of commissioners? John Daniell is absolutely correct about the solar farm. Too bad he did not speak up at the commission meeting.

Foghorn said...

Thank you Mr Daniell, for bringing hope. Look forward to the updated county plan. Hopefully the plan's zoning won't be altered according to developers' desires, as done in Bogart. Commercial changed to residential for a Gainesville group to build 37 houses on the Atlanta hiway between the Tom Thumb and the church, across from the tire store and car wash. Who wants the house going in by the cell phone tower? Plan means have a vision for the future. Sure would be nice to have a viable town center here instead of an out of a misplaced subdivision. Gainesville guy won't be here so doesn't matter to him.

Anonymous said...

You want a SPLOST committee? In other words, you want ANOTHER un-elected group of people making decisions over tens of millions of dollars?

No thank you.

If the county commissioners aren't performing to our satisfaction, we can vote them out of office. Can't do that with an unelected group of people who may represent special interest of certain commissioners... Even commissioners who have been voted out of office, but their unelected proxies sit on a SPLOST committee.

Again, no thank you. If you want that type of government, Communist China is waiting with open arms.

Anonymous said...

SPLOST Committee to determine funding and not elected officials. Sounds like the IDA board, closed meeting (exec. Sessions) and all.
No thank you. We can and will vote out those that spend or not invest wisely in our county's future with tax funds.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Goin' call BS on this. Daniell and Saxon either should have known or weren't paying attention. Melvin knew about the proposed solar farm in January 2015, and had corresponded with BR White and Benko repeatedly throughout 2015 & 2016. The commissioners at the very, very latest knew about the solar farm UDC changes in September 2015:
Planning and Code Enforcement Director White also had kept the members of the Board of Commissioners informed about the proposed changes in the UDC.
On Sept. 22, 2015, he sent Davis, Commissioners Jim Luke, John Daniell, Wilkes and Saxon what he called a “very rough draft of the Solar Power regulation proposal.”

So Saxon and Daniell didn't ask what was driving the solar UDC changes?? It strains credulity that Daniell and Saxon knew nothing of the McNutt Creek Road/Dials Mill Road solar farm.

Even if they did not, they did not think to investigate why the solar UDC changes were being made? They worked with Melvin long enough to know he was involved with all county dealings no matter how large or small.

Sorry fellas, hard to believe you didn't know about Melvin's behind the scenes dealings, and if ya really didn't, then ya should have. Wasn't hard to figure out Melvin would have been very involved with something as important as UDC changes.

The UDC is 600 pages and is possibly the most important county document. We have five commissioners; it may be dry reading, but y'all should know the UDC inside/out, and seriously investigate any changes to it (why is it being changed, who proposed the changes, who drafted the actual changes, how does it affect county residents, who benefits the most, what do other counties use as best practices, etc., etc., etc.).

Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous from 11:14 a.m. again. My point is, after SPLOST is voted and money is received, I would really like to see someone publicly keeping tabs on it, to be sure it doesn't just come in and sit in the bank forever. Seems like it is done that way now. What were the projects voted in 2004 and 2009, and why is the money not being used to carry them out? If money from 2004 and 2009 has not been used, someone needs to report why.