Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Walton And Oconee Counties Passed Over In Awards Of Federal Relief Funds For Water And Sewer Projects

***Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Requests Not Granted***

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday the awarding of just more than $422 million in federally-funded water and sewer grants, passing over requests by Walton County for $115.5 million and by Oconee County for $23.5 million.

Walton County submitted its request for $80 million for construction of a water treatment plant and raw intake pump station for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir and for $35.5 million for a water transmission system for the treated water.

Oconee County is a junior partner with Walton County in the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir project, and the Walton County application included a letter of support from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners.

A separate application submitted by Oconee County for $23.5 million was for an upgrade and expansion of its Calls Creek wastewater treatment facility located on the northeast side of Watkinsville.

The 116 grants awarded ranged in size from $44,125 to Grantville, in Coweta County, southwest of Atlanta, for replacement of aerators on its wastewater treatment ponds to $32.6 million to Forsyth County to pay half of the cost of a pipeline and pump station to return treated drinking water to its source in Lake Lanier.

In addition, the state will allocate $49.8 million to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to develop a program to relieve pressure on southwest Georgia's surface water sources.

Though Kemp, a Republican, made no reference to this in the new release issued by his office on Tuesday, money for the $422 million in grants comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Congress passed that law in March of 2021 without a single Republican voting in favor.

News Release

In the news release, Kemp praised the 13-member Water and Sewer Infrastructure Committee he appointed to review the grant applications.

Kemp Announcing Awards
Screen Shot From Official Video 2/22/2022

“Because we remained focused on protecting lives and livelihoods throughout the pandemic, Georgia is now in a position to make strategic, transformational investments in our state’s water and sewer infrastructure,” Kemp is quoted as saying.

“I want to thank the Committee members for dedicating their time and expertise to help us make these awards as well as the grants team at the Office of Planning and Budget,” the quote from Kemp continues.

“I am proud to know that we have worked hard to prioritize projects which address pressing public health and environmental issues, support economic development, and enhance our ability to be good stewards of our water resources for generations to come,” Kemp said in the news release.

The Committee consisted of six government leaders and seven members of the General Assembly, six of them Republicans.

Walton County Application

The Walton County and Oconee County applications were two of 511 submitted to the Committee for review. The total amount requested was $4.3 billion.

The Walton County request was the fourth most expensive, exceeded by requests from Carroll, Bryan and Newton counties. None of those were funded.

The Department of Natural Resources had asked for $91.8 million and was awarded the $49.8, and Forsyth County had asked for $84.5 but was awarded $32.6.

Walton County promised to invest $30.5 million of its own money in the construction of a “regional water transmission system improvements, to convey treated water to potential customers,” according to the submitted application.

Walton County promoted the value of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir for economic development in the application it submitted on Oct. 31.

On Dec. 16, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that the state had put together an incentive package to lure electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian to a site straddling the Walton and Morgan county lines along I-20.

The state still has not revealed the details of the incentive package for Rivian and has not spelled out how water and sewer will be provided to the plant.

While the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir has been completed and filed with water from the Hard Labor Creek basin, neither Oconee County nor Walton County has needed the water, so no treatment plant or distribution system has been built.

Preliminary Awards

In the news release on Tuesday, Kemp said he was announcing “preliminary awards” but did not elaborate.

Oconee County Administrator Justin Kirouac said in an email message late on Tuesday that “There have been talks of a second round.”

The Oconee County application was the 21st most expensive of the 511 submitted, but the figure used was the total project cost, and Oconee County was seeking $23.5 in federal funding, not the $32.9 in listed total cost.

Oconee County was asking for the federal assistance for an upgrade to the Calls Creek plant, for transmission infrastructure for re-use water, and for a biosolid composting facility.

The award of the $49.8 to the Department of Natural Resources is to provide agricultural water users with an option to shift their water sources from the more drought-sensitive Flint River and lower Chattahoochee River, their tributaries, and the Floridan aquifer to a deeper aquifer.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division of the Department proposes to accomplish this goal by developing and implementing a grant program for agricultural water users to replace surface and Floridan aquifer sources with deep aquifer wells.

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