Thursday, July 05, 2018

Corps Of Engineers Told Morgan County Intake Site No Longer Under Consideration For Hard Labor Creek Reservoir

***New Purchase Pending***

The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority has informed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it is no longer considering a Morgan County site for a possible Apalachee River intake facility for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

The Authority asked the Corps to go ahead with consideration of its request for a permit extension for the intake facility and assume that the Authority would be successful in its efforts to purchase the original site for the intake on the river in Walton County.

Project Manager Jimmy Parker said today (Thursday) that negotiation of a Land Purchase Agreement currently is underway for a property in Walton County, though he would not say whether that was for the original site or yet another site upstream.

The letter from the Water and Sewer Authority to the Corps of Engineers stating that the Morgan County site was no longer being considered came after the Corps forwarded to the Authority a five-page letter asking for clarification of 22 issues.

These 22 issues were raised in 58 comments received by the Corps following its public notice on the Authority’s request to modify its permit to allow for the Morgan County site and to extend the permit deadline by two years.

The Corps also received a petition for a public hearing on the permit modification signed by 137 individuals.

June 15 Letter

Mark Nelson from Nelson Environmental Inc. wrote to the Corps on June 15 stating that the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority “has abandoned and is no longer considering the proposal to construct the Apalachee River intake structure at the Alternative Site 5 in Morgan County.”

Site 2 In Center Above (Click To Enlarge)

Nelson said he was representing the Authority through Precision Planning Inc., whose senior vice president, Jimmy Parker, is project manager for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority has the permit from the Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from the Apalachee River at some point in the future to expand the treatment capability of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

“There is no reason for your office to make a decision on the use of that site for the intake facility,” Nelson wrote, referring to the Morgan County 202 acres on High Shoals Road that the Authority had under contract.

The Authority had asked the Corps to allow it to use the Morgan County site for its intake facility rather than the site in Walton County specified in the original permit and to extend the permit deadline until 2021.

Original Site

The original permit, issued in 2004, listed a 3.48-acre site just upstream from where SR 186 crosses the river as the intake site.

Those 3.48 acres are owned by Victoria Bracewell Presley, and the Morgan County site was selected as an alternate when the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Board and the Authority could not reach an agreement with Presley on the price for the property.

Nelson told the Corps that the Authoriy “has completed negotiations with the property owners” of the original site, referred to as Alternate Site 2. (Four alternate sites originally were identified for the intake, and the Morgan County site became Alternate Site 5.)

“As you may recall,” Nelson wrote, “use of Alternative Site 2 would require resolving matters related to an existing FERC-licensed hydropower generating facility.”

FERC refers to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses a hydroelectric power plant owned by Presley that is just downstream from Site 2.

The intention of the Authority “would be to work with FERC to discontinue use of the facility and void the FERC license,” Nelson wrote.

“We request that you please provide authorization for use of Alternative Site 2 for the Apalachee River intake facility,” Nelson said in his letter, sent to Elisha Brannon, project manager with the Corps responsible for the review of the permit modification request.

Negotiations Underway

In an email on June 29, Reservoir Project Manager Parker told me that the “Authority is currently in negotiations on an alternate site located in Walton County, north of SR 186.”

Parker (Little Behind Him) 5/11/2018

“I cannot release any additional information at this time,” Parker wrote, “as negotiation of the Land Purchase Agreement is currently in process for this potential site."

In an email exchange today, Parker said “the property currently under negotiation has requested that they not be identified until a formal contract is successfully negotiated on the property.”

“The only information I can confirm at this time is that the site is located in Walton County,” Parker said.

He noted that Site 2 is in Walton County.

Letter From Corps

Corps Project Manager Brennan wrote to Brad Johnson, chairman, Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority, on May 22, or about three weeks before Nelson’s June 15 letter withdrawing the Morgan County site.

In that letter, Brennan summarized the comments received in response to the February public notice about the permit modifications by indicating that many of those who wrote “requested that additional information be provided to them via a public meeting and/or hearing.”

Brannon wrote that “We encourage you to hold a public meeting to accommodate this request.”

Brennan listed 21 additional observations drawn from the comments.

“Please provide timelines for construction of all phases of the reservoir, including all pipelines, water treatment facilities, intake structure, etc.” Brennan said.

Brennan noted that many of those who submitted comments questioned the need for the intake facility.

“Additional information is required to clarify the change in use of the reservoir (i.e. recreation and/or service area for other water supply users) as well as the need for the intake structure to supplement water supply for Walton County,” she wrote.

Outside Agencies

The Corps received comments from several federal and state agencies, including one from Rusty Garrison, director of the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Garrison noted that the lower Apalachee River “contains high quality shoal habitat for the Altamaha shiner, which is protected under Georgia’s Endangered Wildlife Act.”

The river also provides “habitat for recreationally important species such as the Altamaha bass, White bass, striped Bass, and other sport fish, and has been identified as an important site for restoration of American shad,” according to Garrison.

Garrison said “we recommend that the intake be located at the site proposed in the original permit, or another site located upstream of the dam at High Shoals.”

In her summary, Brannon noted that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources “has requested the applicant coordinate the design and engineering of the water intake structure with their office.”

Parker provided me with copies of the June 15 letter from Nelson to the Corps and of Brennan’s letter to the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority of May 22.

May 11 Called Meeting

Citizens on the Oconee County and Morgan County sides of the Apalachee River began protesting the Morgan County site shortly after the Corps of Engineers issued notice of the requested change in venue for the intake site and deadline extension in late February.

The citizens, concerned about the impact of the intake facility on their property and on the river, have organized themselves into a group called the Greater Apalachee River Community.

On May 1, at the urging of Morgan County residents, the Morgan County Board of Commissioners passed unanimously a resolution stating its opposition to locating an intake facility on the Apalachee River in Morgan County.

Despite the opposition, Kevin Little, vice-chair of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board, said at the end of a called meeting of the Management Board and the Water Authority on May 11 that the Morgan County site was “still under consideration.”

Nelson’s letter to the Corp stating that the Morgan County site was no longer under consideration was written more than a month later.

Nelson Environmental is based in Flowery Branch in Hall County.

Reservoir Expansion

The water in the reservoir at present is from the Hard Labor Creek watershed basin.

At some point in the future, the Management Board wants to expand the treatment capacity of the reservoir by pumping water from the Apalachee River to the reservoir.

At present, neither Walton County nor Oconee County, partners in the project, needs water from the reservoir, and no treatment plant has been built.

A distribution system for the treated water also has not been constructed.

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