Walton/Oconee propose taking Apalachee water

Patrick Yost News

Residents along the Apalachee River in Bishop held a meeting Sunday, March 4, over frustrations about a proposed river intake facility to be built along the waterway. The facility would, in part, help fill the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir, a 12 billion gallon reservoir constructed by Walton and Oconee counties at a cost more than $80 million. The reservoir is managed by Walton and Oconee counties.

District 3 Morgan County Commissioner Ben Riden attended the meeting along with more than 60 other residents.

“My initial reaction was surprise. Even though this project is in the preliminary phases, we were not made aware by either Walton or Oconee County that they were pursuing a tap in the Apalachee River in Morgan County. None of our commissioners were aware, our board chairman was not aware, and our county manager was not aware. That was all news to us. Oconee County officials thought we had some prior knowledge of this, but we had not been advised.

“We’re in the process of doing our due diligence to figure out why we were not informed about this, how far down the road the project is, and just what impact it might have on us. We’re trying to make those determinations right now.”

The plans, according to notice published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, include  “a pumping station on the Apalachee River with a raw water pipeline to the reservoir to serve Walton County, the City of Winder (including Barrow County), and Oconee County.” The plans have been proposed since February 2004, according to a Public Notice published by the Department of the Army. However, an application on Feb. 20, 2018, discussed a different location of the intake system than a Sept. 8, 2017 application. This change moved the project from Walton County further down High Shoals Road into Morgan County.

Only the three residents whose properties are adjacent to the proposed intake site received a notification of the Public Notice about an application made by Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After recipients shared the notification, surrounding residents were concerned over potential impacts to the area.

The original project location had been water quality certified by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division in February 2004. However, some local residents are concerned about the impact on the ecosystem and flora and fauna if there is a reshaping and excavating of the river or a potentially lower water level. The Feb. 20 public notice lists one endangered and two threatened species in the region from preliminary inquiries made by the Army Corps of Engineers to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Information for Planning and Consultation (IPAC).

As a result of the new proposed location, the Army Corps of Engineers is awaiting an archeological report for a cultural resources assessment and soliciting public comment in its decision-making process.

Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton said, “It is my understanding that the archeological study has been done, and Precision Planning, Inc. (PPI) has those reports. We’ll get those and make them available as soon as possible for citizens to look at.”

Apalachee River resident Amy Lanclos emailed questions to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding how much and in what circumstances water will be pumped into the reservoir, who decides when and how much water to pump, and “Why an intake pump is necessary when in August 2017 the reservoir was 75 percentages full and is fed by Hard Labor Creek?” In addition, ecological and aesthetic concerns were noted.

Lanclos further worried that water might be pulled from the Apalachee River in drought situations, which would only worsen their own river conditions. She was not the only attendee to think so.

In another email sent to the Army Corps of Engineers, Apalachee River resident Megan S. Hulitt stated, “In the summer of 2014, the Apalachee River had so little water in it that it hardly resembled a river. That summer was not even considered a hard drought. My neighbors, who have lived here long before myself, informed me that it was even worse in 2001 drought times.”.

During the meeting, a petition to be sent to the Army Corps of Engineers was drawn up garnering 73 signatures, according to the website Oconee County Observations.

The Army Corps of engineers has established an online form to receive requests for a public hearing on the issue.  Information on how to send a request can be found online at the following: http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/Portals/61/docs/regulatory/publicnotices/PN_SAS-1999-12220-Final.pdf?ver=2018-02-20-110237-000.

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