Walton County plans to reapply for federal pandemic relief funds for construction of a water treatment plant at Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, if the state decides to allow for a second round of competition.
Even without the federal funding, the county plans to move forward with construction of a 16 million gallon per day treatment plant, and preliminary design work already has been completed and bond financing lined up.
Walton County plans to go ahead without Oconee County, its partner in the reservoir project, with the idea that Oconee County, which currently does not need water from the reservoir, can decide to participate at some point in the future.
These were the announcements of Walton County Board of Commissioners Chair David Thompson at the joint meeting last week of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.
Discussion of the rejection by a state Water and Sewer Infrastructure Committee on Feb. 22 of the $115.5 million application by Walton County for funding for a water treatment plant and distribution system took up nearly half of the called meeting of the Management Board and of the Water and Sewer Authority.
Thompson, who is a member of the Reservoir Management Board, dominated that discussion with his report on the state rejection of the Walton County application.
Word From Lobbyist
The Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board voted in August of last year to spend $20,000 with Gilbert, Harrell, Sumerford & Martin, a law firm out of Atlanta, Brunswick, and St. Simons Island, to serve as lobbyists for Walton County’s application for the federal relief funds.
|Thompson, Right, Corner, 3/3/2022|
Thompson said it was from his lobbyist that he learned that Walton County’s application had been unsuccessful.
“The lobbyist called me,” Thompson said, “and said, ‘Mr. Chairman, you’re not going to like this conversation’ and said ‘Walton County was waived off.’
“And I said, ‘Who else was waived off?” Thompson reported. “And she started, and I said, ‘Forget it. I’m too disturbed to talk right now.’
“It’s been a long week,” Thompson said. “We were told coming into this application process by the lobbyist and by our representatives that we were top of the list of the applicants. And lo and behold.”
What Walton Requested
Walton County asked the state to provide $80 million for construction of a water treatment plant and raw intake pump station for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir and $35.5 million for a water transmission system for the treated water.
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.
Thompson said at last Thursday’s meeting that the Walton County application had nothing to do with Rivian.
“I want to make it clear at this meeting since it’s being recorded,” Thompson said. “We are not looking to build this water treatment for Rivian.
“Newton County has pledged that water for their water system and their water reserves. Walton County hasn’t been approached to provide anything for Rivian,” Thompson said.
“I started looking at this in May of last year when I didn’t even known what Rivian was,” Thompson continued, “because we were peaking out on our water supply.”
The Walton County application was one of 511 submitted to the Committee set up by Gov. Kemp for review of water and sewer infrastructure applications. The total amount requested was $4.3 billion.
A separate application was submitted by Oconee County for $23.5 million for an upgrade and expansion of its Calls Creek wastewater treatment facility located on the northeast side of Watkinsville. That also was not funded.
The Committee awarded 116 grants ranging 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 when the grants were announced, money for the $422 million in grants comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress in March of 2021 without a single Republican voting in favor.
The Walton County request was the fourth most expensive request, 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.
Second Round Possible
“There is a strong indication that there will be another round,” Thompson said at the meeting last week. “We have decided to stay the course with our application.”
“This is a working project,” Thompson said. “Walton County needs it immensely.”
The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority gets it water from Cornish Creek in Newton County, and Thompson said “We peaked at Cornish Creek three days last year during a dry spell. And that was just a 10-day dry spell.”
“It’s time to bring it (the plant) online,” Thompson said, “and my administration is committed to try to do that.”
Thompson said he has heard that the next round of awards will be before the election in November.
“We feel like we’ll have to redo our application,” he said. “I’m going to ask for $100 million. I feel like we’re still in the running.”
“The urgency for Walton County is the growth that we’re experiencing,” he said. “And I’d say within three years we won’t be able to even get enough from Cornish Creek to furnish on regular consumption.”
Plans For Treatment Plant
Thompson said the county is planning to build a 16 million gallons per day treatment plant in anticipation of future needs rather than an eight million gallons per day plant.
|Parker, Center, Listens To Question From|
Water And Sewer Authority Member 3/3/2022
“I got criticized by the governor on that, building too much for the future,” Thompson said. “I explained to him the fine line between the eight and the 16.”
The existing reservoir can provide 18 million gallons per day of treatable water without pumping water from the Apalachee River, Project Manager Jimmy Parker said at the meeting.
“So this falls right on the line of building the water treatment plant and getting it online and not having to use the Apalachee River,” Thompson said. “When the usage gets above the 16 million, that’s when the Apalachee River intake has got to be installed.”
Parker said the reservoir could provide 63 million gallons per day of treatable water with the Apalachee River intake.
Bonds Lined Up
Thompson said Walton County needs the 16 million gallons per day plant “in the next three years.”
“So we’re going to play a waiting game and see if we can get some help,” Thompson said, “and then we’re going to look at other alternatives to move forward.”
“We’re ready. I’ve already got the bond people on Walton’s side. We’ve already been underwritten. All we’ve go to do is pull the trigger and within 21 days the money will be in the bank,” he said.
“We’re a pretty good ways down the road at least on preliminary engineering” for the treatment plant, Parker said. “You all’s goal back then was, should some big industrial catalyst come to either county, you want to be in a position where you could move forward. And that’s where you are.”
“I don’t know if we’ll get a dime” from the relief funds, Thompson said, “but we’re prepared for that also financially and make sure the numbers work.
“Oconee can always come in at a later date,” Thompson said. “But, from Walton’s standpoint, we’re going to need water. Plain and simple. We’re going to need water. So we’ll come up with an alternative if we get nothing.”
The Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority are moving forward with construction of the intake from the Apalachee River even though Thompson said use of that facility was “a long way in the future.”
The Management Board is essentially an advisory board to the Water and Sewer Authority, which has the permits for the reservoir and the intake facility.
Oconee County has three votes on the seven-member Reservoir Management Board but no votes on the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.
“It appears that we’re getting very close after a long period of time, to achieving the surrender of the FERC permit on the Presley property,” Parker said at the March 3 meeting.
The Water and Sewer Authority acquired the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permit with what is referred to as the Presley property, on which the intake facility will be located.
The permit was for use of water for generation of electricity, which has been discontinued.
Once that permit is in hand, Parker said, the Board will move forward with shell construction of the intake facility.
The Management Board and Water and Sewer Authority also agreed to spend $77,800 for a funding agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey for operation and maintenance of a stream “gage” on the Apalachee River at Snow Mill Road.
In February of 2020, the Management Board voted to approve the installation and maintenance of a flow monitoring station on the Apalachee River at Snows Mill Road, responding to a requirement of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The new monitoring station will be a companion to the already existing station of the U.S. Geological Survey at Price Mill Road and will provide data on the impact of the water intake facility planned for the Apalachee River at High Shoals just upstream from the SR 186 bridge.
The intake will be between the Snows Mill Road and Price Mill Road gauges.
Parker said at last week’s meeting that the monitoring station already is installed, and data are available to the public from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The video below is of the full meeting of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board. Management Board members are on the right around the table.
The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority also was meeting at the same time. Members are on the left around the table.
With the permission of Parker, I placed the camera on a tripod at the rear of the room about a half hour before the meeting took place and the room was still empty, except for Parker and Horton. I turned the camera on and left the room.
At the end of the meeting, Oconee County Commissioner Mark Saxon was kind enough to bring the camera to me as I waited in my car outside the Historic Courthouse. Saxon is chair of the Manageement Board.
On the advice of my doctor, I do not attend public meetings.
Thompson began his comments on the relief funds application at 7:39 in the video.
Discussion of the water treatment plant ended at 21:57 in the video.