Residents living along the Apalachee River turned out in force on Sunday, producing a petition after nearly two hours of discussion with 73 names on it directed toward the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Petitioners are asking the Corps to hold a public hearing on a previously undisclosed decision by the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board to move its planned intake site on the Apalachee River from High Shoals to several miles south in Morgan County.
The meeting on Sunday–held on the banks of the river at a farm off Gober Road–came about when a few residents received notices from the Corps about plans to build the intake facility on a 202-acre tract on High Shoals Road in Morgan County.
Residents at the Sunday meeting said the decision will adversely affect their quiet life styles and property values, and they complained about the initial decision to build the now-almost full Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in southeastern Walton County.
The most common concern, however, was about the effects of the transfer of water from the Apalachee River to the reservoir.
The flow of water already is minimal, numerous speakers said, and the river cannot support a diversion of water to the reservoir on Hard Labor Creek.
That concern would have been just as real had the Management Board stuck with its plans to put the intake just above the power plant at High Shoals.
Sunday’s meeting followed a call-for-action sent out late last week by Brooke Daniels, 1180 River Run, in the Apalachee Pointe neighborhood off Gober Road.
|Mark Saxon, Chuck Horton, Melba Cooper, Standing, L-R|
David and Brenda Patrick hosted the gathering at their Colachee Farm, 1430 Gober Road.
The group gathered just before 4 p.m. around a fire ring in a large, flat area along the river on what was a perfect early spring day.
Melba Cooper, 1121 River Run, led the discussion and provided background on the Corps of Engineers review process, trying to get the group to focus on concerns about the impact of the pump station at the intake facility and on questions to be submitted to the Corps.
Attendees came from Apalachee Pointe, Gober Road and Price Mill Road, and North High Shoals, all in Oconee County, and from River Walk in Morgan County.
The proposed intake facility would be on property abutting lots in River Walk and across the Apalachee River from land owned by Loren Moores, 1550 Gober Road.
Management Board Members
Included in the crowd were North High Shoals Council members Violet Dawe and Paul Dotterweich, Watkinsville City Council member Dan Matthews, Nedra Johnson from the Bishop City Council, Morgan County Commissioner Ben Riden, and Oconee County Commissioners Chuck Horton and Mark Saxon.
Saxon and Horton are two of the three Oconee County representatives to the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board, which Saxon chairs.
Oconee County is a partner with Walton County in the reservoir. Walton County has four members on the Board.
Oconee County’s share of the costs of and water from the reservoir is 28.8 percent.
At present, neither county needs water from the reservoir, and no treatment plant or distribution system has been built.
Land Under Contract
After about 45 minutes of open discussion, Cooper called Saxon and Horton forward to respond to what they had heard from the crowd.
The remainder of the meeting, which ran until just before 6 p.m., was consumed by a sometimes testy back-and-forth with Horton and Saxon.
Saxon said the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority has a contract to purchase the 201.6 acres in Morgan County owned by Robert Pennington Land and Timber IV LLC, based in Madison.
The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Board is subservient to the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.
The intake facility originally was proposed for a 3.48 acre tract between SR 186 and the Apalachee River in Walton County owned by Victoria Bracewell Presley.
Saxon said federal regulations related to the flow of water to the hydroelectric power plant downstream from the Presley property prevented the Management Board from going forward with that site.
Saxon said the problem with the power plant “has caused us to have to look for another location.”
“We worked it as hard as we could up there to make sure we could get it in up there. It was on the Walton County line. It was on the Walton County side.”
Saxon said the Water and Sewer authority has the “permit for water out of the Apalachee, whether it is here or upstream. They have that permit to pull.”
“When it came to different locations, our people just went out and found another location,” Saxon said. “This does not in any way prevent us from slowing down the process a little bit so that you all are heard. We want you to be heard, 100 percent.”
Saxon said he supported the effort to get the Corps of Engineers to hold a public hearing.
Saxon said that the decision to seek an alternative site was made in the “last month or so” and that everything has been done in public.
“We’ve never had a closed meeting,” Saxon said in response to a question.
In fact, at the January 16 meeting of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board, Project Manager Jimmy Parker gave a very brief presentation on the Apalachee River intake but did not mention in public any problem with the Presley purchase.
Parker said he would provide additional detail in executive session.
The Board went into executive session, which is closed to the public, at the end of its regular meeting.
The next most recent meeting of the Management Board was in November, and there was no discussion at that meeting of problems with the original site.
Videos of those meetings are available at the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board channel of my Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.
Confusion Over Morgan Interest
Saxon said that he was told–he didn’t say by whom–that Morgan County was in agreement on the decision to put the intake facility in that county.
Morgan County has an interest in obtaining up to a million gallons per day of water from the Hard Labor Creek reservoir, Saxon said he was told.
Morgan County Commissioner Riden disagreed.
“We never said we are on board with anything,” he said.
Riden, who is new to the Commission, said there had been discussions about the water needs of Morgan County in the past, but that he first heard of the location for the intake facility only last week.
Tour Of Site
Following the two-hour session, Moores, whose land is opposite the proposed intake site, led a tour to look across the river at the Pennington property.
“I’ve been on this river. I’ve lived in this area since 1982,” Moores had said earlier in the session. “I’ve seen the river at all stages.
“I will assure you that during the summertime, I’m 5 foot 5, I’m not the biggest person out here.
“And I can walk across the river and not get above my knees. I’ll be on dry sand some of the places.”
The video below is of the entire meeting on Sunday.
Commissioners Horton and Saxon began their comments at 47:45 in the video.
I was using battery power on the camera, and the power ran out at 1:27 in the video. I overlapped the recording with the original camera, which was on a tripod, with a backup camera, which I had to hand hold.
The rough cut is where put the video from the two cameras together. I did not leave anything out in the editing.
The images from the hand-held camera are less stable, and I apologize for that.