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Bear Creek permit may come by Dec.

COVINGTON — Construction of Bear Creek Reservoir could get under way in 2012, according to a county official.

If a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers is obtained by the end of the year as expected, the project will be put out to bid and designed in 2011, pending approval from the state Safe Dams Program, with construction to start the following year, said county attorney Tommy Craig.

A longtime detractor of the project, Samuel M. Hay III, criticized the Board of Commissioners at a recent meeting for not having a contract or a cost estimate for the project.

"If you people are going to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money, you need to agree when you go into executive session or wherever you go to get a contract. If you don't, you need to resign," Hay said.

But Craig said a contract will come later, after engineers have been hired.

"Right now we are pursuing the permit. At such time as we obtain a permit, then engineers will be authorized to design the dam. And when the design of the dam is approved by the state Safe Dams Program, then the county will put the dam construction out to bid," Craig said. "That will be a competitive bid process. The contractor will post a bid bond and performance bond."

All the necessary land acquisition has been completed, according to Craig.

"The major expense is behind us, not in front of us. I think most of the heavy lifting has been done. The only thing we have to worry about is the cost to construct the dam ... Until they have done the design, it's difficult to get an estimate on that," he said. The project will be funded through bonds, he said.

Obtaining a permit has been delayed by a number of factors over the past decade. A Joint Public Notice — a public comment period on potential impact of the project — was first issued for the project in July 2000. While that was under way, the Army Corps of Engineers relocated its office from Atlanta to Morrow and didn't leave forwarding information. Concerned that those who wanted to comment might have missed the chance, the county was asked to voluntarily withdraw its application and resubmit it.

At around the same time, the Corps suspended acceptance of all applications for about two years while it developed a new procedure to establish need for water supply projects. By the time that was done, the 2000 Census results were available and the county had to reconfigure population projections.

Another delay involved the pursuit of a partnership with Jasper County. The state certified the need for the project based on Jasper County's participation, but the deal fell through.

"We spent a pretty good bit of time pursuing a partnership with Jasper County that didn't work out. When that didn't work out, we had to revise the documents again before we could submit them," Craig said.

A change by the Corps on environmental mitigation regulations caused yet another delay. Another JPN was finally issued in 2008.

"The good news is there has not been an immediate need for the water. We're in a time now where we'll probably get the best bids for construction of the dam because dam contractors are eager for work. Our goal is to try to get a permit on this by the end of the year," Craig said.

Despite claims by Hay that Craig is operating as both reservoir consultant and legal counsel on the project, Craig said he is only involved based on his role as county attorney.

"I've done this in a number of other communities as a (reservoir) consultant but here, I'm just wearing my hat as attorney," he said.

Chairman Kathy Morgan responded to Hay's comments by noting that all aspects of the project have gone before and been approved by the Board of Commissioners.

Proposed for southeast Newton on land purchased by the county in 1996 along with Gaither Plantation, the 1,308-acre reservoir will yield 28 million gallons of water per day, with supplemental pumping from the Alcovy River. The reservoir is expected to meet Newton County's water needs through at least 2050.