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11-1-03 Oconee County-Water-Politics-Money-Landfill

Oconee-Walton Water & Landfill Projects Connections

The Athens Banner-Herald

October 30, 2003

N. High Shoals reservoir possible

By Laurie Strauss @onlineathens.com

WATKINSVILLE - Oconee County is considering building a reservoir near North High Shoals to store water drawn from the nearby Apalachee River.

The proposed 400-million-gallon reservoir would receive the 2.25 million gallons of water the county can pull daily from the Apalachee under a permit the state Environmental Protection Division approved in August.

Public Utilities Director Gary Dodd said Wednesday that engineers have been out to look at land and have spoken with a property owner, who asked not to be named. However, building a reservoir remains just a conceptual plan.

''Right now we are just looking to see if it's feasible to put a reservoir there,'' Dodd said.

The potential reservoir is seen as a backup plan in case a proposed partnership with Walton County and the city of Winder for a reservoir on Hard Labor Creek does not pan out, Dodd said. The county also is looking at other backup water sources, including a trio of new wells, he said.

Dodd and Jimmy Parker of Jordan, Jones & Goulding, the county's engineering consultants, briefed the county commission on the reservoir and the Hard Labor Creek project Tuesday night.

Obstacles in the path to gain permits for construction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPD have created what Parker termed ''a chain of hoops'' that project developers have to jump through.

Walton County alone has overseen the process to date, and Parker and Dodd have kept the board up to speed with the progress of the reservoir, a 1,368-acre facility capable of yielding 42 million gallons of water daily, with 12 million gallons potentially going to Oconee residents.

Though plans have been moving slowly, Dodd and Parker said, they reminded the commission that the four-county Bear Creek Reservoir took more than 11 years to complete. Bear Creek supplies Oconee, Clarke, Barrow and Jackson counties with drinking water, with Oconee County getting 6 million gallons per day. Another 1 million to 1.5 million gallons per day comes from county-owned wells.

Walton County is pushing to complete the Hard Labor Creek reservoir by 2009, while Oconee County's current water supply will remain adequate until 2017, Dodd said. However, Dodd pointed out that Oconee County's 2 million gallon daily water demand is rising, and the number of utility customers increased 8 percent this year alone.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Thursday, October 30, 2003.

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AVOC COMMENT: It is good that Oconee is looking down the road for future water supplies. Oconee's rate of growth absolutely makes it necessary.

The 2.5 Million Gallons per day is a turnoff though. It takes a lot of money (legal and engineering) to build a reservoir and water treatment plant. Will it be worth it?

It is timely that the Water Reservoir idea comes forward. This is only a couple or so miles down the Apalachee River from the proposed C & D Landfill on U S Highway 78. The Walton County Jack's Creek project is also downstream.

It is a little troubling to see the interaction and dealings of some of the "players" in the Walton Water Project and the C & D Landfill project. The Walton Water & Sewerage Authority's lead attorney in the Walton Reservoir project is the same attorney who represented the Landfill Applicants in the Walton County C & D Landfill Approval in August.

One of the owners is the proposed landfill site is chairman of the Walton Water & Sewerage Authority. All of this "smells" like conflict of interest.

A concern of mine has been whether Oconee officials have been lobbyied by the Landfill Folks who are also dealing with them on the Water Project.

See the articles below for involvement and background.

Wendell Dawson, Editor

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See below for earlier AVOC articles on the Landfill and Persons Involved...

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The Walton Tribune

August 10, 2003

Massive landfill approved

By Wes Swietek

WALTON COUNTY — A split vote has paved the way for a massive landfill along the Aplachee River in Walton and Oconee counties.

South Eastern Land Services sought a rezoning and conditional use permit at Tuesday’s Walton County Board of Commissioners meeting to build a 640-acre construction and demolition debris landfill on U.S. Highway 78 at the Walton-Oconee boundary. Two-hundred and twenty acres of the landfill would be in Walton with the remainder in Oconee County.

Attorney Tommy Craig, representing property owners Ben Doster and James Holder, said there would be 400-foot buffers between the landfill and the Aplachee River, which would run through the center of the landfill.

Commissioner Michael Turner asked Craig to clarify the landfill’s location.

"So the river will be sandwiched between landfills?" Turner asked.

"Yes sir." Craig responded.

Several residents then spoke against the proposal.

"It sounds preposterous to do this next to a river," said Jack Bennett.

"To let someone sandwich a river with landfills and not get (pollution) in the water is farfetched."

Area resident Sonja Perez agreed.

"The Apalachee is the only river right now that’s clean. If we keep letting in more landfills, what will happen in the future?" she said.

Covington attorney Dan Greer also spoke regarding the proposal. He was representing James Sims, who is constructing a landfill adjoining the proposed South Eastern Land Services site. Greer said the new landfill should be forced to adhere to the same standards as the Sims landfill.

Craig said Alabama-based South Eastern Land Services had already spent $00,000 on engineering studies and the same standards were not needed.

"I have a real problem with the amount of river frontage," Turner said. "I’m very concerned about the contamination of the river — the river cannot be replaced."

Commissioners then discussed the possibility of tabling the issue until state Department of Transportation studies could be completed regarding increased traffic in the area.

"I don’t think it’ll be good for Walton County either way," commissioner John Robinson said.

Under advice from county attorney Ken Lander, the board forged ahead with a decision. Lamar Palmer made a motion to allow the landfill with the stipulation that it be subject to the same regulations as the Sims Landfill. Gerald Atha and Phil Green supported the motion; Turner, Robinson and Clinton Ayers voted against it. BOC Chairman Kevin Little broke the tie by voting to approve the landfill. As boos began to emenate from the packed room, Little explained his rationale.

"If you approve two convenience stores, how can you turn down a third?" he said in reference to the two landfills previously approved by the county.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is tentatively scheduled to hear a rezoning request for its portion of the landfill in September.

Copyright © 2003 The Walton Tribune

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AVOC COMMENT: It is surprising that Walton passed this so quickly with little public notice. Chairman Little's reasoning shows lack of vision, leadership and backbone. With such logic, the next landfill will be automatically approved! And the next! And the next!

Some of the players involved are interesting. Attorney Tommy Craig has been long time Newton County Attorney. He also has a reputation with many as the 'person to go to for permits'. He is very knowledgeable about Federal and State environmental regulation. He helped the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority obtain a Corps of Engineers 401 permit.

Craig is also attorney for the Walton Water and Sewerage Authority Reservoir Project on Jack's Creek. (Downstream of the Landfill!) He is respected by many. Others consider him a 'hired gun' who has cultivated inside relationships with regulatory agencies. I, and some others, were not pleased with all of his activities in working with the UOBWA permit process. While we appreciated his expertise, we did not always feel that we knew all that was going on. His involvement with Bear Creek ended after obtaining the permits.

AVOC sources have said that former Walton official was involved. The whole thing has been kept too quiet.

A "Mega Landfill" area deserves reasonable public input and information. Voters should request copies of correspondence, emails and demand answers to questions.

Following Chairman Little's comments, it is even more imperative that Oconee County adequately debate and review the approval of such a large facility in the County.

Do we want this area of Georgia to become a LARGE DUMP for the East Coast?

Wendell Dawson, Editor

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The Walton Tribune

August 17, 2003

Doster defends landfill deal

By Wes Swietek

MONROE - The Chairman of the Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority says there’s no conflict with his post and his role in a proposed 600-acre landfill along the Apalachee River.

Ben Doster, a real estate agent who has been on the authority since 1995 and has been its chairman since last year, is the co-owner of a 600-acre tract along U.S. Highway 78 slated to be a construction and demolition landfill. The other owner is former county board of commissioners chairman Rick Holder.

At last week’s BOC meeting, commissioners approved by a split vote a rezoning and permit for the 200-acre portion of the proposed landfill that’s in Walton.

Four-hundred acres of the tract are in Oconee County, where officials are slated to hear a rezoning and permit request for the landfill next month.

The landfill would still need state Environmental Protection Division approval before operations begin.

Doster, who has owned the land for three years, says there’s no conflict with his water authority duties.

"I’m in the real estate business to make money," Doster said. "I’m not in the waste business. For some people, it’s an issue, but I’ve been in real estate before I was in the authority. My main priority (with the authority) is securing the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir."

Doster also said he sees no conflict because he’s confident the landfill, to be built by Alabama-based South Eastern Land Services (SELS), won’t negatively impact the Apalachee.

"At a minimum, the property boundary starts 400 feet from the river. In some places, the landfill will be up to 1,200 feet from the river. There’s practically no way for contamination to happen," he said. "(SELS) spent more than $00,000 on soil samples.

"We were naturally concerned when they came to us, but this company (hired) the most renowned landfill engineers in the world. They’ll do a great job."

Doster said he’s not been able to sell the land for other purposes, and that a landfill would be better ecologically than a subdivision.

"I’d rather have a C&D landfill than 600 septic tanks. There’s no way to monitor septic tanks," he said.

Doster also said he and Holder plan to use part of the tract to start a sand dredging operation that will clear the river of silt and will build a working grist mill on the river that will be open to the public at certain times for education purposes.

"There’s a negative connotation to landfills because the public thinks of poorly managed (facilities)," Doster said. "The C&D facilities we looked at were more like you’re riding through Kansas prairie land."

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AVOC COMMENT: The truth will out! While there may not be a legal conflict, this does not pass the "Smell Test"! This whole deal has been too quiet. Officials in both counties have been able to keep it low profile. Maybe it has been "discussed" in their numerous Executive Sessions.

The "working grist mill" sounds like a carrot like the one used in Oconee County to justify the county's improvement of Fambrough Bridge Road. The timber company "gave the county" an old log cabin "to save". The county just had to build a road to get it out, move it to Heritage Park, and then "fix it up". The Oconee "Log Cabin" has even made the latest SPLOST list of projects.

Where is the area media? Where are our concerned citizens? Where are the gadflys? Where are our leaders??! This is 1,100 to 1,200 acres of landfill area right in the middle of a Northeast Georgia growth corridor!

The Walton Tribune is commended for reporting the details about this.

Wendell Dawson, Editor

 


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