Sunday, October 13, 2019

Oconee County Expects State To Reduce Volume Of Water To Be Withdrawn From Apalachee River, Citizens At Town Hall Meeting Told

***Waiting On New Permit***

Oconee County is expecting the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to modify its June 2008 Apalachee River Withal Permit and reduce the amount of water Oconee and Walton counties can withdraw from the river for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

The state Environmental Protection Division also is likely to add monitoring requirements to the permit, including using new stream flow gauges, quality monitoring stations and biological monitoring activities.

Oconee County Commissioner Mark Saxon made these announcements at the Board of Commissioners Town Hall meeting held on Tuesday at Oconee Veterans Park.

Oconee County’s application for state funds for an expansion of the Senior Center in Oconee Veterans Park was unsuccessful, and the county will have to reapply, Commission Chair John Daniell told the small number of citizens who turned out for the quarterly open meeting.

Oconee County plans to turn over to the city of Watkinsville responsibility for design of the widening of Experiment Station Road in the city when, at some point in the future, the Georgia Department of Transportation decides to move forward on that project, Daniell said.

Daniell had scheduled comments by Saxon and by Brad Tucker from the Economic Development Taskforce that the Board of Commissioners appointed as a means of drawing people to the Town Hall Meeting.

Tucker said the Taskforce has completed its work and agreed on three strategies for development in the county: invest in existing businesses, target professional and technology jobs, and leverage the proximity to the University of Georgia.

Saxon On Project History

Daniell was joined at the front of the room on Tuesday by Commissioner Mark Saxon and Commissioner Mark Thomas.


Commissioner Chuck Horton arrived as the meeting was breaking up. Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes did not attend because it was his wife’s birthday, according to Daniell.

Daniell asked Saxon, chair of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board, to provide an overview of the reservoir project.

Saxon told the 27 citizens in the audience that work on the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir began in 1992 and he was simply going to give an “overview of what’s been accomplished” to date.

The dam has been built on the reservoir in southeastern Walton County near Social Circle and the reservoir has reached full pool, Saxon said.


Saxon told the audience that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has renewed its permit for construction of a supplemental intake facility on the Apalachee River at High Shoals just upstream from where SR 186 crosses the river.

The permit is for 15 years and, according to Saxon, it will be 2030 before any water will be withdrawn from the Apalachee River.

Oconee County is a 28.8 percent partner in the project and entitled to that percentage of the water from the reservoir.

At present, neither county needs the water in the reservoir, and no treatment plant has been built, and no transmission lines exist to get any treated water to the two counties.

The reservoir is on Hard Labor Creek and contains water from that basin.

At some point in the future, according to plans, water is to be withdrawn from the Apalachee River at High Shoals and pumped to the reservoir to supplement water from the Hard Labor Creek basin.

The Management Board currently is waiting on a response from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for renewal of water withdrawals permits for the project, Saxon said.

Permit Modifications

In 2008, the EPD granted to the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority a permit to withdrawal water from Hard Labor Creek and another permit to withdraw water from the Apalachee River.

Daniell, Thomas, Saxon With Intake Map

Both permits have expired, and the Management Board and Water and Sewer Authority have submitted documents asking for the renewals.

Saxon told the group that the Board has addressed all of the concerns raised by the EPD regarding the permit renewal applications and there is the “possibility” that the EPD will issue the permit renewals in November.

The expired Apalachee River withdrawal permit was for 60 million gallons per day of withdrawal, but “that will probably be changed we think,” Saxon said. “We think... that will be changed and go down.”

“We’ll have upstream and downstream gauges at the intake,” Saxon said. “We’ll have to follow all the strict rules that Georgia puts on us.”

That includes continuous water quality monitoring stations, biological monitoring stations, and monthly reporting to EPD, according to Saxon's presentation.

In response to questions and comments from representatives of the Greater Apalachee River Community, a group formed to protect the River, Saxon confirmed that the power plant at High Shoals is no longer operating and water is not being diverted for that purpose.

Saxon said that the Reservoir Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority will not own either of the two dams on the river at High Shoals and has no responsibility for maintenance of those dams.

Development Taskforce

Prior to Saxon’s presentation, Daniell asked Brad Tucker, one of the 10 members of the Board of Commissioners-appointed Task Force on Economic Development, to review the recent work of that group.

Tucker said “The Taskforce was charged from the Board of Commissioners with identifying and enunciating a vision and a broad strategy for economic development in Oconee County.”

The plan took into consideration the county’s Comprehensive Plan, Tucker said, “our very high quality education system,” “the quality of life that we enjoy here in Oconee County,” and that the county is “home to a very educated workforce.”

Other counties also have these advantages, Tucker said, but the county’s proximity to the University of Georgia sets it apart.

This led the Taskforce to identify three strategies: Support, nurture, and invest in existing businesses, Target professional and technology jobs, and Leverage proximity and relationships with the university and the university’s focus on research and innovation to attract related businesses.

Tucker is a member of the Executive Board of the Chamber of Commerce and is one of two Chamber members on the Taskforce. Tammy Gilland, chair of the Chamber Executive Board, is the other, and she was in the audience on Tuesday as well.

Road Projects

Following the presentations by Tucker and Saxon, Daniell opened up the meeting to questions from the audience.


Peyton Magee, 1120 Loch Lomond Circle, near Butler’s Crossing, was the first to respond to Daniell’s invitation.

Magee is owner of the community subscription newsletter Loch Lomond Gazette, and he told the Commissioners he is 12 years old and “I’m trying to help build a stronger community.”

Magee asked Daniell to provide an update on the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to U.S. 441, of the extension of Bishop Farms Parkway to New High Shoals Road, and of the widening of Experiment Station from U.S. 441 to Watkinsville.

All of these projects are in closed proximity to the Loch Lomond neighborhood.

Daniell’s Update

Daniell told Magee that the Georgia Department of Transportation expects to let construction in January of 2021 for the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 bypass.

The current plans have to upgraded, analysis of the streams needs to be updated, and related ecological analysis has to examined, costing the county almost an additional $250,000, Daniell said.

Bishop Farms Parkway extension is in design stage, Daniell told Magree, and the county hopes to advertise for a construction manager at risk by the end of the month.

Widening of Experiment Station Road to Main Street is now labeled as “long term” on regional road planning documents, Daniell said, “so we don’t really have any idea when that funding might get released.”

“We’ll most likely turn those plans over to the city of Watkinsville,” Daniell continued. “Most all of that project is within the city of Watkinsville, and they may have different views on the design, which is now several years old.

“They may want to make some changes based on the plans they are working on,” according to Daniell.

I do not live in the Loch Lomond neighborhood, but Magee had interviewed me about this blog, and I had suggested to him that the Town Hall meeting would be a good opportunity for him to ask about these three road projects.

Heritage Park

Amry Harden, 1100 Briar Lakes Court, off Mars Hill Road, asked Daniell to talk about Heritage Park, off U.S. 441 in the very south of the county.

Harden In Center

“What’s the usage down there?” he said. “It is just a passive park?”

Daniell said there is a lot of horse activity and mountain biking at the park.

“It is more or less a passive park” Daniell said, with staffing present only when there is an event.

The pavilion is not heavily used, Daniell said.

Other Announcements

Daniell filled gaps waiting on questions with announcements.

He said the request for proposals is out for building the first phase of a broadband loop in the county to upgrade Internet access for residents not getting service from the existing providers.

The county soon will consider expanding the Calls Creek Water Reclamation Facility from 1.5 million gallons per day to 3 million gallons per day, Daniell said, and the Board of Commissioners soon will consider closure of the Land Application Site on Rocky Branch Road.

Construction of the expansion of the Courthouse is ahead of schedule, Daniell said.

“We did not get the grant” for the expansion of the Senior Center, Daniell said. “We’ve already talked with the (Northeast Georgia) Regional Commission and we’ll be applying for next year. We’ve already got that paperwork.”

The county asked the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for a grant of $750,000 for expansion of the Senior Center and had hired the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission to assist with the application.


The video below is of the entire Town Hall meeting on Oct. 8.

Tucker made his comments about the Economic Development Taskforce starting at 0:39 in the video.

Saxon made his representation about Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir starting at 6:32.

Magee asked his question at 20:09 in the video.

Harden asked about Heritage Park at 30:30 in the video.

The county has put the presentations by Tucker and Saxon it its web site.

Note: This post has been updated at 12:49 on 10/14/2019 to reflect the exact amount of the Oconee County grant application for the Senior Center. I had that information but could not find it when I uploaded the original post.

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