The Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board took four steps last week to move forward with construction of a water treatment plant and transmission lines on the reservoir in Walton County jointly owned by Oconee and Walton counties.
The Board agreed on a professional services agreement to assess the water in the reservoir, authorized a request for qualifications for water treatment facilities and transmission line designs, and authorized a request for qualifications for construction of the facilities.
In addition, the Board approved a bond resolution allowing Walton County to sell bonds for the plant.
Oconee County, which is obligated to pay 28.8 percent of the costs of the work, has agreed to pay only $12 million of its estimated $21 million share and will not participate in the $69 million in bond sales authorized in the resolution for Walton County.
That decision by Oconee County reflects the fact that Oconee does not need the water from the reservoir, while Walton County Board of Commissioners Chair David Thompson said Walton County is in desperate need for water from the reservoir.
Thompson told the management Board that he expects Oconee County to pay its share of the costs in the future when it does need the water, plus interest on what he termed a loan from Walton County.
Walton County representatives to the seven-member Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board had not articulated any pressing need for water until Thompson joined the Board in January of 2021.
|Right Side Of Table: Mark Saxon, Kirouac, |
Thompson, Chuck Horton, Ferguson (Gesturing)
Thompson, elected Walton Board of Commissioners Chair in November of 2021, told Management Board Members repeatedly at the Sept. 13 meeting that the county exceeded its allowed draw from the Cornish Creek Reservoir in Newton County 21 days this year.
The county “had to scramble and buy from the city of Monroe and Oconee and Gwinnett,” Thompson said.
Thompson also said that, with the new water from the reservoir, the county could meet with developers and consider running water lines down at least some of the 250 county roads that, at present, do not have water running with them.
Thompson also said the reservoir would serve the region, not just Walton and Oconee counties, and would allow Newton County to take back control of the 6.25 million gallons per day from Cornish Creek it now contractually is required to allocate to Walton County.
The massive planned development for the Rivian electric truck plant straddles the Newton County and Morgan County lines.
Thompson was making his pitch to the Management Board and the representatives of the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority, meeting together in the Historic Walton County Courthouse in Monroe.
Oconee County’s Representatives
Oconee County has three members on the Management Board, which serves as an advisory body for the Water and Sewer Authority. The Authority holds the permits for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.
Oconee County does not have any representation on the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.
On the initiative of then Board of Commissioners Chair Melvin Davis, the Oconee County Commissioners, in a split vote, agreed to join Walton County in construction of the reservoir in southeastern Walton County in March of 2007.
According to the agreement, Oconee County is responsible for 28.8 percent of the costs and is to receive that same percentage of the water.
Walton County, on Thompson’s initiative, applied for $115.5 million in state administered federal COVID-19 relief funds for the water treatment plant and accompanying distribution system.
When the state announced it would award $42 million in July, it said 28.8 percent of that money was to be shared with Oconee County.
Despite its name, the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority does not provide sewer services.
According to the figures Thompson released at the meeting on Tuesday, Walton County had 16,662 residential customers as of June 30, 2022, and an additional 340 commercial customers, for a total of 17,002.
Thompson said Walton County added 507 new customers in the last year.
Tim Durham, Water Resources Director for Oconee County, told me in an email on Sept. 15 that Oconee County has 10,947 residential water customers and 1,119 commercial water customers, for a total of 12,066.
In addition, the county has 2,224 residential sewer customers and 626 commercial sewer customers, for a total of 2,870 sewer customers.
Oconee County’s population, based on the 2020 Census (41,799), was less than half that of Walton County (96,673).
While Oconee County has only one water and sewer provider, Walton County has separate and competing water systems in Monroe and Social Circle as well as separate sewer systems. Loganville, for example, has its own sewer service but its residents obtains water from the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.
The base residential water bill for 2,000 gallons per month in Oconee County is $21.82, while it is $39 in Walton County.
Oconee And Walton Spending
The resolution passed by Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority on Tuesday authorized the issuance of revenue bonds that Thompson said will generate $69 million by Walton County for its share of the costs of a water treatment plant, a primary transmission main, and a western transmission main.
Thompson said Walton County has $9.1 in federal relief funds it can apply to the costs. He said he also plans to seek additional state administered funds for the transmission lines.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell has said he informed Thompson that Oconee County will commit no more than $12 million to the project.
This calculation is based on the ability of the county to finance the project, he said.
“The final mix of cash and debt will be determined as we get closer to solid construction numbers,” he said.
The county has $3.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds it can use, he said.
Oconee County gets almost all of its water from the Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County and is spending about $10 million for an upgrade to the treatment plant at that facility that will allow he county to double its allocation of treated water to 8 million gallons per day.
Justin Kirouac, Oconee County County Administrator and one of the county’s three representatives on the Management Board, asked Board and Authority Attorney Chip Ferguson on Tuesday about Oconee County’s obligations with the Walton County bond sales.
|Project Manager Jimmy Parker (Gesturing)|
“Oconee County has no obligation to repay any of this money that is being borrowed,” Ferguson said.
“We hope we have over-budgeted this thing to where we get back to a more comfortable level,” Thompson said. “But when we get down to the very end, if we have to loan Oconee County $5 million, I’ve said we’ll run it by our Board.” (Daniell has estimated the gap at more than $8 million.)
“But we don’t know that we’ll be there yet until closer to the end of the project,” he continued. “And they’ll have to pay, the clock starts ticking when we do, they’ll have to pay that and the interest and whatever else to be back in on the project.”
“If a customer were to come in and want to buy additional water from Oconee and Walton, they’d have to get strait or make payments on their debt,” Thompson said. “That’s yet to be determined.”
The Board also approved a $67,600 professional services agreement with Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., which has offices in Athens, to analyze the water in the reservoir to determine the specifications needed for the water treatment plant.
It also authorized Precision Planning Inc. of Monroe to prepare and distribute a request for qualifications for completion of the design for the treatment plant and for the transmission lines.
It also authorized Precision Planning to prepare a request for qualifications for a construction manager at risk for the actual construction of the treatment plant and the transmission lines.
Thompson dominated the meeting, making the case for the action to be taken by both the Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority and responding to questions from members of the Water and Sewer Authority.
“Newton County is very interested in our allotment in Cornish Creek,” he said at one point. “Those negotiations will be up and coming in a couple years when this gets closer to permission. There is hopefully a silver lining at the end of this operation. That contract is still good for 2055. So it does have value.”
“I want to compliment this group,” he said. “To have foresight to move forward with this. I see the need right now with Walton running out of water. And those before us had the foresight to put this project up and get this far.”
“It is going to carry Walton and this region well for the next 100 years easily,” he said. “I’m proud to be part of it.”
A member of the Water and Sewer Authority asked Thompson about the details of the distribution system inside the county.
“That is something the county is going to have to look at along with developers and stuff,” Thompson responded.
He said the county had about 250 miles of roads that did not have water lines along them.
“We try to add lines out in the county in areas that are growing,” he said. “But it would be another $100,000 million project to try to put lines in the whole county, on all of our roads.”
By the time the plant is built, Thompson said, “we’ll be over 8 million gallons a day in usage at the rate of growth we’re experiencing right now.”
I put my camera on a tripod at the rear of the meeting room before the Board and Authority met on Tuesday and returned to retrieve it once the meeting had ended.
Almost the entire meeting dealt with the action taken on the treatment plant and transmission lines or discussion of it.