Monday, August 08, 2022

State Announces Award Of $42 Million In Federal Recovery Funds For Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Water Treatment Plant

***Plant Estimated To Cost $80 Million

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has informed Walton County that its application for funding for a water treatment plant for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir has been approved tentatively at $42 million.

Walton Commission Chair David Thompson announced at a called meeting of the reservoir Management Board last week that he had been notified of the favorable review of the county’s application for funding on July 14.

The Management Board and the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority, meeting in tandem, agreed to accept the grant and move forward with discussions about how the funds will be used.

The grant is from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund that resulted from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in March of 2021 without Republican support.

In the application submitted by Walton County in October of last year, the water treatment facility was estimated to cost $80 million.

The system for transmission of that water to Walton and Oconee counties was estimated to cost an additional $66 million.

In the original round of funding, Walton County had asked for $115.5 million for the treatment plant and the distribution system.

That request was rejected, and the $42 million grant would be part of a second round of funding for water and sewer projects in the state from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Called Meeting

The called meeting of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority took place on Aug. 3 at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Monroe.

News Release Walton County

I had asked a person attending the meeting to record the session for me, but the person was able to record only the last few minutes of the session.

Oconee County, which is a partner with Walton County on the reservoir project, has three representatives on the Management Board to four for Walton County.

The permits for the project are held by the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority, on which Oconee County has no representatives.

Under the agreement between the two counties, Oconee County is to cover 28.8 percent of the costs of the project, with the remainder the responsibility of Walton County.

Oconee County is entitled to 28.8 percent of the water.

Saxon On Vote

The key item on the Aug. 3 agenda was: Discuss project financing and status of State Fiscal Recovery Fund Grant Application for design and construction of the initial Hard Labor Creek Water Treatment Facility.

Thompson presented an email message to “Dear Walton County” stating that “The Governor’s Office Of Planning and Budget is pleased to inform you that your application for funding has received approval in the amount of $42 million pending a final budget review and approval.”

According to Oconee County Commissioner Mark Saxon, who chairs the Management Board, the Board “voted to accept the fact that the $42 million was coming and that we needed to go back and have discussions amongst our Boards.”

“This is more of an issue for Oconee than for Walton,” Saxon said in a telephone conversation on Monday.

“Walton wants to move forward, but we haven’t really had a discussion about the next step,” Saxon said.

Saxon said there is no set time line for that discussion.

Oconee County was represented at the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board meeting last week by Saxon, County Administrator Justin Kirouac, and Tim Durham, Oconee County Water Resources Director.

Durham is an alternative for Commissioner Chuck Horton, who missed the Aug. 3 meeting.

Parker Response

Reflecting the difference of perspective of the two counties, Project Manager Jimmy Parker from Precision Planning Inc., based in Monroe, said the vote by the two bodies last week was more definitive.

“Basically, the vote/action taken by both the HLCRMB and WCWSA was to recommend proceeding with design and construction of the Hard Labor Creek Water Treatment Facility and Finished Water Transmission System,” Parker said in an email on Monday.

“This recommendation will require formal approval by both the Walton and Oconee County Board of Commissioners,” he continued.

“We are working on updating the anticipated construction costs this week, construction cost allocations for each participant, and will be forwarding those projections to both Boards (BOC) for consideration,” he said.

A news release issued by Walton County said “The award will be disbursed as a reimbursement grant to the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.”

“The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority will use the funds to strengthen the infrastructure of Walton County by building a Water Treatment Facility at the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir,” the news release stated.

The award implementation will take approximately six to eight weeks due to the nature of the process, according to the release.

Differing Needs For Water

Walton County does not have its own source for drinking water and currently buys all of the water the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority distributes to customers.

The water is purchased from neighboring systems, including Newton County, Oconee County, and the City of Monroe, which is in Walton County but not part of the county water system.

“With Walton County growing in population and the demand for water increasing, the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority must start using its water source at the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir by building a Water Treatment Facility,” according to the news release.

In the original grant application, Walton County also said water from the reservoir would “accommodate projected industrial growth” in Walton County, along the I-20 corridor in particular.

Water from the reservoir also would “provide short term emergency potable water supply to nine adjacent counties across the Northeast Georgia Region,” the application said.

Bear Creek

Oconee County does not need water from the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

Oconee County is a partner with Barrow, Jackson, and Clarke counties in the Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County, which provides the bulk of the water used in the county.

That reservoir is governed by the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, with Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell serving as Authority vice-chair.

Daniell said in an email on Monday that the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority “is currently in the process of selecting a design consultant for the expansion project.”

That expansion, according to the Request for Qualifications issued earlier this year, would involve an increase in the water treatment plant capacity at the reservoir and thus provide additional water to Oconee County.

“Walton County was lead on getting the grant for the treatment plant,” Daniell said in that Monday email.

“Walton County was understanding of our timing concerns for the treatment plant and has been open to working through any issues related to timing,” he continued.

“The $42 million is a game changer for both counties,” he said.

Agreement Between Counties

County Attorney Daniel Haygood said in an email on Monday that “Oconee and Walton will undoubtedly have to negotiate exactly how they move forward as the agreement does not allow either county to force the other to move forward.”

“Each county has different needs and timing, and that will all have to be worked out,” he said.

“If the State does come up with the $42 million, it does make all future plans a little simpler,” he added.

Oconee County has financed the construction of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir by adding those costs, as well as the financing costs, to the water and sewer bills of Oconee County water and sewer users.

Homeowners in the county not on county water and/or sewer have not born the cost of the reservoir, as no general funds from the county have been used to date to pay for the project.

The costs of expansion of the Bear Creek treatment plant also will be born by water and sewer customers in the county, not the entire county.

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