Newton matches state regs

COVINGTON - After three years of working to improve its erosion and sediment control program, Newton County has met state requirements, a representative with the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission recently told county commissioners.

As a local issuing authority, the county handles all enforcement of erosion and sediment control issues.

The Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission periodically reviews local issuing authorities in cooperation with the local water and soil conservation district - in this case, the Upper Ocmulgee River Soil and Water Conservation District - to make sure they are complying with state law.

Newton County has been graded inconsistent, meaning its program did not meet state standards, since 2005.

"There was lots of development during that time frame, and they were struggling to make sure they had all their i's dotted and t's crossed," said Chris Groskreutz, a regional representative with the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

But this year, the county earned a consistent rating, meaning the program meets minimum state standards.

"The past few years, they've fallen below minimum standards," Groskreutz said. "They've been working on ways to improve that, and they've still got some things to improve, but they're showing progress and their efforts are noteworthy."

The commission has been providing consulting advice on program improvements; enforcement is left up to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPD never took enforcement action against the county because of the good faith effort shown to make improvements, Groskreutz said.

One major change that was made is that the soil and erosion control program was put under the purview of a newly formed department. Inspectors, previously under Planning and Development, are now part of the Water Resources Department.

The department's director, Karl Kelley, said he's switched the focus from enforcement to compliance.

"Now, we call the developer or their contact and explain the deficiencies and give them an opportunity to clear them up before we write them up. Previously, there were notices of violation or stop work orders or court citations issued."

Now that an effort is being made to work with developers, compliance has improved, Kelley said.

"Anytime you have behavior modification, there's the carrot and stick effect. In the past there's been more stick and less carrot. Now, there's more carrot and less stick and that seems to be working a little better," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.