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9-23-04 Oconee To Make Fast Growth Mistake Worse Than MPDs?

During the recent election cycle, Oconee County officials kept the $ 126 Million Wastewater Plan quiet and out of public view.

AVOC

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September 23, 2004

Oconee To Make Fast Growth Mistake Worse Than MPDs?

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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During the recent election cycle, Oconee County officials kept the $ 126 Million Wastewater Plan quiet and out of public view.

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SEE AVOC ARTICLES ON OCONEE STUDIES AND PROJECTS:

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7-9-04 Oconee Studying and Postponing Many Projects and Problems -- Part 1

7-9-04 Oconee Studying and Postponing Most Projects and Problems Part 2

ALSO:

7-17-04 Sewer Service is Expensive and Tough to Deliver

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Shortly after the election, the County had one of its ‘public hearings’ called a Public Information Hearing in which no questions are allowed from the audience (Citizens).

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SEE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF $ 126 MILLION PLAN AT:

8-23-04 Oconee To Have "Public Hearing” On $ 126 Million Wastewater Plan

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The Oconee BOC dealt with the Plan on September 21 by having a presentation from Gary Dodd, Utility Department Director.There was little or no public discussion and then the proposal for engineering bid proposals was put on the CONSENT AGENDA for the regular meeting on September 28 to be approved without any discussion!Commissioner Hale questioned it being put on the Consent Agenda. Can she not object at the September 28 meeting and demand some public discussion?

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In recent months, the Utility Department Director has become a spokesman and expert about most any subject the Commission is considering.One wonders why he is the apparent ‘county spokesman’ on growth issues when the County has a highly paid fulltime Chairman and a highly paid County Administrator?

 

A few months ago, Dodd’s claims that septic tanks were going to be eliminated in Georgia was spoofed by folks knowledgeable about the subject.   Is this the same science being used to support the ‘the water reuse policies’.

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SEE AVOC ARTICLE ON THE SEPTIC TANK STORY:

7-4-04 Oconee- Septic Tanks Are Not Going Away & Connection Fees Will Not Pay $ 126 Million

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(Frankly, I tried to get at least three golf courses to consider using the County’s LAS spray.Most were skeptical about it and there was some concern about whether the water could be used with human contact.)If the science has advanced that much in recent years, we need a demonstration and factual public presentation in Oconee County.Is this just some more ‘feel good’ talk?

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In fact, the quick LAS expansion is being driven by the County’s ill advised MPD and residential sewer policies.   AVOC believes, based on creditable information, that the County has over committed its existing sewer capacity and must move for fast expansion to deal with the situation.HOW MUCH UNCOMMITTED CAPACITY IS AVAILABLE AT THE EASTVILLE LAS SITE?   AT CALL’S CREEK IN WATKINSVILLE?

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Sewage treatment and collection systems take many permits and much money.They also take time.   Any reading of the $ 126 Million Wastewater Plan indicates that a larger and new Wastewater Treatment Plant is needed on the Middle Oconee River below Watkinsville’s Calls Creek plant.   This will take much time and big bucks!

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The $ 126 Million Plan can be paid by new connections.However, the size of the debt load will require new customers in large numbers.   Does this mean we will approve every residential development that comes down the pipe?Will we become ‘Wall to Wall’ subdivisions?    The rapid growth can make the payments for a while for the sewer capacity.How about the additional schools, law enforcement, fire prevention, roads to handle the traffic, etc?

 

Our county seems to be embarking on a journey of FAST GROWTH with little public discussion or understanding.Elected officials should be questioned about these things.Citizens should not take simplistic answers and assurances on these FAST GROWH steps!The ultimate price may be more than citizens want to pay.

 

THE $ 126 Million Wastewater Plan is too unknown and too ambitious for the commitments being considered by our commissioners.


SEE ARTICLE BELOW FROM CITIZENS FOR OCONEE’S FUTURE ABOUT THE 9-21-04 WASTEWATER DISCUSSIONS:


Citizens for Oconee's Future
PO Box 13011
Watkinsville, GA 30677
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Citizens

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Following is a summary and comment on last night's Board of Commissioners Agenda setting meeting by Sherry Burns.  It is interesting to see how decisions having significant impact on the county slide through the BOC wit! h so little public discussion and input.  They are proceeding with the $26M sewer plan as if it has already been approved just as many thought would happen after seeing the "proposed" Jones and Goulding Wastewater Plan.Charles Baugh, President
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Dear Charles:

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I hope you will forward the following to the whole group.
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Tonight I attended the BOC Agenda Setting meeting.  There were interviews for positions on the Development Authority, the Library Board, the Animal Control Board and the Board of Health.  John Daniell was seeking a position on the Development Authority and I think he has good qualifications to be put upon that Board.  .
Dan Wilson from Public Works discussed the widening of Mars Hill and Jennings Mill Road and the general Transportation Plan for '05 and '06.  Public Works is holding itself to a budget for road improvements that mirrors the budget for 2004.  I don't see how they can continue to hold the line with so many new developments coming down the pike.

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NOTE WELL: Item 8 was delivered by Utilities Department Director Gary Dodd.  He is seeking to get money for the engineering and permitting phase of the upgrade from 400,000 to 1 million gals. per day for his Land Application System Sewer Plant.  He wants to put the engineering and permitting out to bid.
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After Mr. Dodd's presentation, Mr. Davis put the issue on the Consent Agenda for the October 5 BOC meeting. 
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The LAS upgrade from 400,000 to 1 million is included in the JJ and G Wastewater Master Plan.  We know that the Master Plan has not been voted upon and has not even received a true public hearing.  The public has heard from JJ and G, but the BOC has not heard from the public!  Is this an attempt to spend money for the upgrade of the LAS in order to bring it in "under the radar," and before the newly elected BOC members get a chance to hear from the public on the many issues of ultimate build-out associated with the Wastewater Master Plan?
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Mr. Dodd stated that he wants to upgrade the plant so that he can lay water lines coming and going from the plant to developments for reuse water. 
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Reuse water is wastewater that has been treated to a level below the level for water for human consumption.  It is bought by golf courses and is used to irrigate. 
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How can we assume that MPDs on sewer, with 5000 square foot lots will need to irrigate?  What exactly will they irrigate since they have no lawns and no golf courses?  Where is the need for reuse water?
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Unknown are the economic parameters of spending money to enable us to have reuse lines when we do not know if anyone will need the reuse water.
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Mr. Dodd said that the "Reuse of water would become a Condition of development for all new developments hooking up to the upgraded capacity of the LAS plant."     
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He was asked if he had enough land on the site for spraying of 1 million gals. per day.  He said that he had asked EPD if he could get a "cold weather discharge permit into Barber Creek."  He said they were "OK with that idea." ( Is this a promise and is it in writing?)
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Mr. Dodd said that he had already been approached by the high school on their desire to use reuse water.  He stated that the new park would be able to use reuse water.
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Are reuse water lines in the current Park Master Plan?  I have not heard that discussed.  If so, the public will pay for to install the reuse lines from the LAS Plant to the park.  Do parks need to irrigate their ball fields?  Is that a public expense that is truly necessary?
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Mr. Dodd was asked if farmers could use the reuse water to irrigate hay fields.  He said that yes, farmers could take advantage of the reuse lines for their hay fields. The idea of farmers irrigating hay with reuse lines is completely ridiculous!  The expense would be totally incredible!
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After the discussion of irrigation of hay fields, Commissioner Margaret Hale stated that she felt that "going this large was something that should wait."  She stated that she felt that the BOC should not put the issue on the Consent Agenda yet. 
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Mr. Dodd said that "We can stop at any point with wastewater permitting.  It is not like water permits, they usually put a time limit on those."

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Ms. Hale commented that she didn't want to waste money on engineering now if the BOC didn't want to "go so large" with the sewer plans.
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She was told that the BOC could stop at any point after the allocation of the money for engineering and design. 
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The bottom line is this:

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1) The upgrade of the LAS Plant is part of the JJ and G Wastewater Master Plan which has not been voted on and not received public input or discussion.
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2) The BOC has not heard public comment on the value of the Wastewater Master Plan and there is much to be discussed since the Plan has four separate and distinct funding Options.

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The overall concept of reuse water is vague, untested, expensive and probably unworkable in a county as small as Oconee unless we build out over the top with high-density.

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4) The idea put forward by Mr. Dodd of "making using reuse water a Condition of future rezoning" is possibly illegal and cannot be done "across the board" for all developments.
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5) Reuse water lines are just like "private streets in subdivisions" and stormwater detention ponds: when they are built the developer pays but when they must be maintained, the public pays.
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6) The idea of "cold weather discharge into Barber Creek from the LAS Plant" of wastewater that is treated to the stage where it is not fit for human consumption is a real insult to the life of the creek!   What is already flooding into Barber Creek?  All the commercial sites and highways along Jennings Mill plus the delightful Creekside MPD on Jimmy Daniel Road with over 60% impervious surface run-off!  How much more can this creek take?
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Regardless of the above, the LAS upgrade to 1 million gals. per day was put upon the Consent Agenda for the October meeting. 
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So much for public input into brave new projects that will affect all our lives!
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Agenda Item 11, (the County's Mission Statement) had to do with service to the people.
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Agenda Item 12 dealt with staggered terms for BOC members.  Most members wanted staggered terms to avoid the kind of election cycle they just had to face.  However, nobody was pleased to learn that the Justice Department would likely ask that the population of Oconee be apportioned out into Districts and that BOC members representing the people in different Districts actually live in those Districts with the people they represented.
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On staggered terms, which was also put on the Consent Agenda for October 5, Mr. Davis asked that the County Attorney give the BOC several options. Discussed were various Options that are existing in Georgia.  Among those were some that sounded less than democratic, but were nonetheless approved by the Justice Department.
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Johnny Pritchett stated that he felt that "equal representation" should be a goal.  Mr. Wilkes did not understand that Districts would be drawn to contain the same numbers of people in each District.
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How many of the current BOC members live in the southern end of the County?  Mr. Davis, Ms. Hale, Mr. Pritchett and Mr. Wilkes?  These same BOC members are increasing the population of the northern end of the County exponentially. 
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Ms. Kate McDaniell spoke at Citizen Concerns.  She said that she had lived in a County that had District voting and that it had fostered animosity between Districts.
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Commissioner Hale asked if there could be public input into the process before the BOC asked the State Legislature to alter the voting in Oconee.  She was told by Mr. Davis that, of course, as always, public input would be sought.
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Sincerely,
Sherry Burns  


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