The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board in August of last year asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an extension of its permit to withdraw water from the Apalachee River, but it has not yet received that extension.
The original permit expired on Feb. 28, 2014, and had been extended to February of 2019.
The Corps is accepting input from citizens on the extension beyond the current expiration date at the same time it is seeking input on a proposal to build an intake facility on the Apalachee River in Morgan County to withdraw that water.
The intake and the permit are not needed to operate the nearly full reservoir, which has the capacity of producing 13 million gallons per day of treated water as it is.
Withdrawal from the Apalachee would be needed at some point in the future only to expand the capacity of the reservoir beyond the 13 million-gallons-per-day level.
Citizens who attended a meeting last Sunday on a farm off Gober Road in Oconee County on the intake facility were given incomplete information on the status of the permit and incorrect information on the need for the intake.
Confusion At Meeting
While many of those present at Sunday’s meeting were concerned about the location of the intake facility on a 202-acre tract next door to the River Walk subdivision in Morgan County, the majority expressed concerns about the impact of withdrawal on the flow of water in the river itself.
|Intake Located Near Walton, Oconee, Morgan Intersection|
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They were not told by Oconee County Commissioners Mark Saxon and Chuck Horton, who attended and responded to questions from the audience, that the Corps of Engineers has not granted an extension of the permit and is seeking public opinion before it does so.
Saxon and Horton are two of the three representatives of Oconee County on the seven-person Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board. Oconee County Administrator Justin Kirouac is the third Oconee County person on the Management Board.
Walton County provides the remaining four members and has 71.2 percent interest in the reservoir, compared with Oconee County’s 28.8 percent interest.
The gathering on Sunday was at David and Brenda Patrick’s Colachee Farm, 1430 Gober Road. The farm has frontage on the Apalachee River.
Permit Status Uncertainty
The Management Board voted on Aug. 15, 2017, to ask the Corps for an extension of the permit beyond Feb. 28, 2019.
I attend all Management Board meetings or arrange for them to be video recorded, and I did not recall any mention of an extension being granted in any subsequent meeting.
When The Oconee Enterprise reported in its March 8 edition that the permit had been extended to Feb. 28, 2021, I sent Project Manager Jimmy Parker an email request for a copy of that extension. Parker is also senior vice president of Precision Planning Inc. of Monroe.
“The Authority has requested a two year time extension request under the current permit modification request......from February 2019 to February 2021,” Parker wrote in reply late on the March 8.
Authority refers to the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority, under which the Management Board operates.
“That permit modification request is currently in the public comment process, along with the alternate location of the intake facility site,” Parker continued.
“The time extension request has not yet been formally approved.”
Tucked Into Notice
I searched the Corps of Engineers web site for a Public Notice on the request for an extension and could find nothing. I also reread the Public Notice for the intake facility and did not see a reference to the permit extension.
I sent Parker another message asking for help.
“The Corps wording on the time extension is somewhat ambiguous,” Parker wrote back on March 9 in response. See the highlighted text on page 1 of the public notice (attached).”
The text reads: “The applicant is requesting a permit modification to address a proposed change in location for the water intake structure on the Apalachee River as well as to extend the permit expiration to accommodate construction within the next 24 months.”
Role Of Intake
At the meeting on Sunday, Saxon said “my understanding is that you have to have the intake along with the reservoir. It is part of a package deal when it comes to making that happen.”
But that is in conflict with at least some previous discussions of the project.
In August of 2009, a delegation from Oconee and Walton counties met with a representative of the governor’s office to discuss the possibility of obtaining state and federal funds for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.
Documents used to supplement that presentation indicated that the reservoir would be built in two phases.
The first phase was scheduled to come online in 2014 at a cost of $170 million.
In the first phase, water impounded would come from Hard Labor Creek itself.
In the second phase, water would be pumped from the Apalachee River and stored in the reservoir.
The second stage was not scheduled to be completed until 2050, but, with state and federal funding, it could be built more quickly, and the excess water could be diverted to Atlanta, the delegate told the governor’s office.
The first phase of the project has not been completed to date because neither Walton County nor Oconee County needs the water.
Although state low-cost loans have been granted for the project, no treatment plant has been built, and no transmission lines have been constructed.
In my email exchange with Parker, I asked for clarification of the dates and phases.
“Pumping raw water from the Apalachee River to the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir is not anticipated to occur prior to 2030, barring some unforeseen increase in Walton and Oconee water demands (large industry, etc.),” Parker wrote back.
“The ‘Intake Structure’ must be constructed prior to expiration of the USACE 404 permit, although pumps and related equipment will not be installed and operated until needed.”
USACE refers to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Different Time Frame
Parker broke the project into different phases from what had been presented back in 2009 in responding to my question.
“Phase 2 would actually include the initial water treatment facility and transmission mains,” Parker wrote.
“The reservoir will produce 13 MGD, ‘stand alone’, with water from Hard labor Creek and the other direct tributaries.
“Only when Walton and Oconee water demands exceed 13 MGD will supplemental water supply be required from the Apalachee River.
“I suspect the Apalachee River diversion would likely occur in a subsequent phase of the project.”
Saxon On Need
Saxon was pressed on the need for the intake at several points in the meeting on Sunday.
“With the reservoir, you have to have the intake,” he said at one point. “That is part of the agreement with state law, EPD and everybody else. They approved it at the higher levels. That is a part of the process.”
EPD stands for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
When asked why more water was needed, Saxon said “The intake is to when you, when you build a plant, Walton County builds a plant, as we are part of that as well in the future.
“When they take water out of that reservoir, and it draws that reservoir down, then they can refill the reservoir at high levels in the Apalachee River. Otherwise they won’t be doing that.”
In responding to questions, both Saxon and Horton frequently said that they were not experts and were relaying information they had received from the project’s consultants.
Request For Public Hearing
The citizens present at the Sunday meeting are petitioning the Corps of Engineers to hold a public hearing on the intake facility.
They also have the opportunity now to comment on the need for an extension of the permit to withdraw the water itself.
The permit issued by the Corps on Feb. 19, 2004, actually specified the location of the intake facility.
It reads: “The intake facility on the Apalachee River would be located at High Shoals within the pool of the power generation facility currently operated by Gaynor Bracewell.”
Saxon told the group on Sunday that the original location cannot be used because of federal requirements on water flow to the power plant.
Circumstances Can Change
The permit states that the Corps can “reevaluate its decision on this permit at any time the circumstances warrant.”
It states that reevaluation would be appropriate if “Significant new information surfaces which this office did not consider in reaching the original public interest decision.”
The permit also states that extensions are granted routinely.
“Unless there are circumstances requiring either a prompt completion of the authorized activity or a reevaluation of the public interest decision,” the permit states. “The US Army Corps of Engineers will normally give favorable consideration to a request for an extension of time limit.”
NOTE: This story has been updated as of 1:10 p.m. on March 12 to reflect additional information on the dates of the permit. Parker provided me a copy of a letter from the Corps of Engineers dated Feb. 26, 2014, extending the withdrawal permit to Feb. 28, 2019.