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5-10-04 Oconee’s ”Pot of Gold” Fuels MPDs and Land Rush

It has been personally frustrating to observe the recent “wheeling and dealing” with our sewer capacity! Not only did we abruptly change long-standing policy but we rushed to “Sewer” every residential development coming down the pipe provided they could pump to our sewer plant.

AVOC

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May 9, 2004

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Oconee Sewer Capacity Was A Long Process - Like “Pot of Gold”

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By Wendell T. Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc - Another Voice Oconee County

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Twenty years ago Oconee County had no sewer capacity.   Watkinsville had a small, antiquated downtown sewer system that dumped raw sewage into Tanyard Branch & Calls Creek.    In the eighties, the GA EPD ordered Watkinsville to stop the “last raw discharge in Georgia”.   I was City Attorney (since 1970) and worked very closely with the project.   An EPA $ Million grant helped but there was much other cost.

In the late 80’s, the Watkinsville Calls Creek Plant became the “Hub” of a county system.   The plant was originally about 163,000 GPD in capacity.    It was gradually increased to 400,000 GPD in the late 90’s and the County SPLOST vote in 1999 provided for funds to eventually increase the capacity to 1 Million gpd.ÂWe extended the system to the Butlers Crossing, OCHS school area and later to Epps Bridge Road to serve Home Depot etc.

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In the early nineties, we realized the little Watkinsville Plant could not serve the Bogart or Highway 78 area.    Athens-Clarke had decided not to sell us any more capacity.    From Plant Visits to the Orkin site, we knew that a large industry could require 100,000s of gallons of capacity which we did not have.    We checked into Land Application Systems (spraying treated affluent through an irrigation system onto land or forests.)

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I personally talked to several landowners.    The Hammond brothers on Rocky Branch Road were both graduates of Agricultural Engineering and were more receptive of the system.    In 1996, we leased approximately 265 acres and started developing the system on Rocky Branch Road.   It took two or three years to go through the design and public hearing process.    There were neighborhood complaints (like all such facilities attract because of rumors and misinformation).    The EPD granted us a permit but for about a 1/3 of what I had understood when we started on the process.    We were told that after a couple of years of monitoring,the capacity could be increased from 200,000 GPD to 400,000 GPD.   I understand that has been done and there is no odor problem from the facility.

The Eastville LAS site was small.    We envisioned more land being connected to the system in this heavily agricultural area.   One site we considered was the 450 acres (+ or -) tract where the 2003 C & D landfill was proposed.   While I was in office, we just did not have the funds to buy more land.   We felt with the coming of Walmart et al, we would have more future funds to help expand the sewer capacity.

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Without sewer, one cannot have a viable commercial or industrial node.   We knew our capacity was scarce but could handle some activity at the “Orkin Site” rather than depend on Athens-Clarke County to provide sewer.    Our small capacity gave us some economic independence that we had never known as a county.

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Since sewer capacity was so hard to come by, we limited it to Commercial and Institutional uses through my service that ended on December 31, 2000.   One of my last events was testifying in a court case we won in which a developer sued for sewer service for an apartment-type complex in Watkinsville.

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The current commissioners, with pressure from developers, opened the door and have approved numerous developments to be served by sewer.    I am convinced that we do not have the capacity to meet all of these connections and be able to serve Commercial and particularly the large “Orkin Site” in Oconee and Clarke with 2/3 of the property located on GA 316 in Oconee County.

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The commissioners have talked about a “treatment plant” to be built.   It seems kind of vague to this “Old Sewer Veteran”.    We have heard of new technology for years.    LAS was the preferred way for years.    We tried the Micronair System for sludge removal in the 90’s.     It worked for a while and then failed.    The City of Albany tried the same system and later went to court over $ 20 Million in damages.

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It has been personally frustrating to observe the recent “Wheeling and Dealing” with our sewer capacity.    Not only did we abruptly change long-standing policy but we rushed to “Sewer” every residential development coming down the pike provided they could pump to our sewer plant.

This policy was bad in several respects:

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  • It rapidly used up a scarce resource;
  • It allowed out-of-town developers to come in and “Buy Up” our capacity at the expense of local developers and taxpayers;
  • It is allowing sprawled, scattered development to be haphazardly placed in rural areas of the County;
  • It is not bringing new sales tax dollars;
  • It will add additional burdens to our school system and to our other limited infrastructure;
  • It is a bad development strategy and in no way qualifies as “Smart Growth” or “Planned Growth” but is more of a greed-driven raid of our limited sewer system that was years in the making.

This is a terrible mistake that needs correcting fast. The voters of this county need to change the Commissioners and some key staff persons that put us on this ill-advised course.

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MPD Map

Green Spot to left of Eastville is LAS Site

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Outline of Oconee County Sewer Development and Policy

4-27-04 Sewer Capacity, Roof Tops, Economic Development

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Watkinsville - Calls Creek Wastewater Plant

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  • Initially City -Mid 80’s, 163,000 GPD (gallons per day);
  • County had limited capacity purchased from Athens---Jennings Mill and Highlands Hills;
  • County Began Operating Water & Sewer Systems- OCUD;
  • 90’s SPLOST Funds dedicated to Expansion---400,000 GPD lines to Butlers Crossing, OCHS and Epps Bridge Road Area - Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart etc;
  • 99 SPLOST vote to expand the Watkinsville Call’s Creek Plant to 1 Million GPD and eventually go further down river or pipe up to 4 Million GPD;
  • Watkinsville is currently at 667,000 GPD with 335,000 in use and approximately 200,000 committed to approved developments;

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EASTVILLE LAS---- Land Application System

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  • Late 90’s---- Leased approximately 260 acres from Hammond family on Rocky Branch Road -- ”Looked for many sites: golf courses, large farms; Hammonds were cooperative;
  • Initial hopes were 750,000 GPD; buffers, percolation and public resistance held the capacity to 200,000 GPD with plans to increase to 400,000 GPD after a couple of years of operation---currently at 400,000 with over 300,000 GPD committed to approved developments;
  • Plans to form a Public-Private Alliance (Wastewater Partners) to build a plant to one million GPD

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SEWER POLICY:

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  • Sewer Capacity is like gold; hard to get and costly; took years to get two plants and existing capacity (over 15 years);
  • Annual Public Economic Development Meetings -Public supported sewer for business;
  • Several SPLOST votes in 90’s were approved with this stated policy and projects;
  • Enhancing Tax Base was goal throughout 90’s, Butler’s Crossing-Publix; Schools; Home Depot, Krogers, Lowes, Walmart etc;
  • Small sewer capacity was limited to Commercial and Institutional uses;policy was challenged in lawsuit in 2000 and county prevailed;
  • Policy changed in 2002 & 2003 with MPD’s - Pump Sewer to Eastville and Watkinsville.

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ROOF TOPS:

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  • Need more houses to support commercial development----fallacious argument - more houses to get more commercial to pay for costs of residences!
  • One large developer-landowner at GA 316 and Highway 78 aggressively built subdivisions in late 90’s and since.   Little has come.
  • Large businesses look at 30 mile radius; populations of Athens and area counties supported Home Depot, Krogers, Lowes, Publix etc.
  • Main Intersections are accessible---GA 316- Epps Bridge Road at Athens Loop; GA 316 at 78; US 441 at Athens Loop;
  • Businesses could increase revenues to meet infrastructure, school and populations needs and keep property taxes from sky-rocketing.

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MPDS:

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  • Use much capacity;
  • Scattered away from main Interchanges;
  • No connectivity to the Commercial Nodes or Centers;
  • Undefined market areas;


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