Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Oconee And Walton Counties Waiting On State Renewal Of Water Withdrawal Permits For Hard Labor Creek Reservoir

***Decision Expected In November***

The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority are waiting on final action by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on a request for renewal of withdrawal permits from Hard Labor Creek and the Apalachee River.

Jimmy Parker, project manager for the reservoir, said “We have addressed all EPD comments related to water demand and future needs.”

The Environmental Protection Division staff is now setting up the final environmental monitoring requirements to be included in the permit renewals, Parker said.

Parker said he expect the permits to be issued in November.

Oconee County Commissioner Mark Saxon, chair of the Reservoir Management Board, will provide an update on the reservoir, a partnership between Oconee and Walton counties, at the Oconee County Town Hall meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 8 at Oconee Veterans Park.

Saxon and Commissioner Mark Thomas are member of the Economic Development Task Force, and Commission Chair John Daniell has said the Town Hall meeting also will include a summary of the work of that group.

Sarah Bell, Penny Mills and I are hosting an election forum from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) night at Watkinsville City Hall, with candidates for mayor and for Council Post 2 invited to attend. Time also will be available for a discussion of the Brunch Bill, which will be on the November ballot.

That event is open to the public.

Permit Renewals

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority a letter on Feb. 25 indicating that it would extend to Feb. 28, 2034,its permit to build an intake facility to withdraw water from the Apalachee River for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

Saxon 8/8/2019

The letter listed as a condition that the Authority must comply with any requirements of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division permit for withdrawal of water from the river.

In a letter of Jan. 31, 2019, the Georgia EPD informed the Water and Sewer Authority that its applications for renewal of its Surface Water Withdrawal Permits for Hard Labor Creek and for the Apalachee River were pending.

The EPD letter listed 83 comments that need to be addressed before those permits can be extended.

Included were 12 comments about the Justification of Needs section of the renewal application.

The letter indicated that the data provided do "not justify the need for the supplemental water from the proposed Apalachee River pump station until after 2050.”

The letter said the Authority should “provide data, including all sources and assumption, to support the need for the water to be provided by the proposed Apalachee River pump station.”

March 19 Meeting

At the combined meeting of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board and the Walton Count Water and Sewer Authority on March 19, Parker told the members of the two bodies that the 71 comments deal with such matters as the drought contingency plan and the water conservation plan.

“Most of that’s minor,” Parker said.

Of more consequence were the requirements asking for adjustments in the water demand projections for both Walton and Oconee counties and for a “current, approved service delivery strategy.”

The Reservoir Management Board is only advisory. The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority actually holds the permits, which must be renewed every 10 years.

One of those permits is for withdrawal of water from the reservoir, which is on Hard Labor Creek in the southeast of Walton County.

Because neither Oconee nor Walton county needs the water at present, no treatment plant or distribution system has been built, and no water is being taken from the reservoir.

The other permit is for withdrawal of water from the Apalachee River. The plan is to withdraw water from the river at some point in the future and pump it to the reservoir to supplement the water from the Hard Labor Creek basin.

Construction Of Intake Facility

Parker said at that March 19 meeting that he needed input from the Management Board and from the Water and Sewer Authority about construction of the intake facility on the Apalachee River, now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has extended its permit for 15 years to build the intake facility.

Horton, Speaking, With Johnson, Back To Camera, 3/19/2019

“Regulations usually get more complex over time,” Parker said. “The longer you defer the project, the more regulations you might be faced with.”

“Building a structure you’re likely not to utilize for a decade or longer,” Parker added, “presents some issues with maintenance of the structure and people monitoring it, and the warranty on the roof and other things going out before you ever get ready to use it.”

“We’re just looking for some guidance,” Parker said. “Should we proceed with the line of construction of that facility or defer that construction until the time it’s needed?”

Following discussion, Saxon said “If everybody is in agreement that we need to move forward, then I don’t see an issue with that whatsoever.”

Brad Johnson, one of four members of the Management Board from Walton County, made the motion to proceed with design of the intake facility. Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton, one of three members of the Management Board from Oconee county, seconded.

The motion passed unanimously and then was approved unanimously by the Water and Sewer Authority, of which Johnson is chair.

August 8 Meeting

When the Management Board and Water and Sewer Authority next met, on Aug. 8, Parker gave the two bodies an update on the work on the intake facility, saying design work would begin shortly.

“The design team is currently coordinating with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Historic Preservation Office regarding screening and architectural elements to blend in with the High Shoals Historic District,” Parker said. “It’s a big concern that we don’t impact the historic district.”

The intake facility is on a 3.48 acre tract between SR 186 and the Apalachee River in Walton County previously owned by Victoria Bracewell Presley.

In 2006, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division designated a historic district on the north and south banks of the Apalachee River at the intersection of Morgan, Oconee and Walton counties.

A former textile mill on the site was destroyed by fire in 1928, and only ruins of the foundations exist today.

Parker said the design might incorporate old brick to “match some of the old pieces of the old mill” and that the driveway might be curved “so there is no line of site from (SR) 186 to the facility.”

Update On Permits

Parker also gave the Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority an update on the request of the EPD to renew the two water withdrawal permits at that meeting in August.

Parker 3/19/2019

“EPD did request that we prepare an updated reservoir yield analysis, which this Board approved,” Parker said. “That was completed by Schnabel Engineering. And all responses were resubmitted to EPD in May of 2019.”

Schnabel is based in Alpharetta.

“We’re currently awaiting their final review and approval,” Parker said of the EPD. “And we probably receive an email maybe once a week with some minor question that we respond to during this process. So things seem to be moving forward.”

Parker told me in an email message today (Wednesday) that “We actually conducted a site visit with Georgia EPD staff at the Apalachee River intake site on Tuesday, September 17th.

“GaEPD also invited representatives from GARC to see the actual site and discuss upstream and downstream monitoring requirements to be included in the permit renewal,” Parker said. GARC refers to the Greater Apalachee River Community, which has expressed concern about the ability of the Apalachee River to handle the withdrawal of water.

“We have addressed all EPD comments related to water demand and future needs,” Parker said in his email. “EPD staff are now resolving the final environmental monitoring requirements to be included in the permit renewal, and we expect the draft permit to be issued in November.”

Loan Modification

The Aug. 8 meeting was called to consider a modification to a $12 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

The existing Loan Agreement with GEFA had a completion date of July 2019 for the project, Parker said. He said he had “reached out to GEFA back in April and requested a time extension.”

The Management Board and Water and Sewer Authority approved a modification moving the completion date to December of 2022, also delaying payment of the loan.

In 2012, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs awarded two loans to Oconee and Walton counties for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir as part of the Governor’s Water Supply Program.

One of those loans was for $20 million, and the other was for $12 million.

Intake Budget

Parker told the Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority, during his budget review at the August meeting, that they had spent $137,382 from January to the end of June of 2019 on the Apalachee River Intake, including $130,000 for earnest money for acquisition of the Presley property.

The 2019 Fiscal Year Budget, which ended on June 30, had included just less than $4 million for the intake. The project was delayed because of problems acquiring the Presley property.

The total amount budgeted for the Intake Facility is $4.5 million.

To date, the two counties have spent $86.3 million on the reservoir, with $75 million of that covered by bonds and loans issued by the two counties. Walton County has spent $11.3 million on the project before Oconee County joined in 2007.

Oconee County’s share of the debt and water is set at 28.8 percent.


I was out of town when both the March 19 and Aug. 8 meetings took place.

Penny Mills attended and recorded the March 19 meeting, and Sarah Bell recorded the Aug. 8 meeting.

Both videos are below. I have not posted about either of those meetings until now.

In the first video, from the March meeting, discussion of the United States Army Corps of Engineers permit begins at 8:23.

In the second video, discussion of the GEFA loan begins at 4:01.

Discussion of the Apalachee River update begins at 15:26 in the second video.

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