COVINGTON -- The Army Corps of Engineers has approved the environmental mitigation plan for Bear Creek Reservoir and, "We're so close we can taste it," to having needed permits in hand to move forward with construction, said County Attorney Tommy Craig.
Under subsection "q" of the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has a right to veto permits that affect aquatic resources of national importance. Craig said EPA almost always asserts that reservoir projects fall into that category. So, there has been a "q" letter issued regarding Bear Creek. If the Army Corps of Engineers issues a notice of intent to issue a permit on Bear Creek, the EPA has 15 days to lift the "q" letter or elevate the permit decision to Washington, D.C.
"We don't expect elevation," Craig said.
Another step in the process is a memorandum of agreement on historic resources that must be in place, a standard procedure requiring a search for artifacts, such as those from Native American settlements. The need for an MOA "does not represent the possibility of delay" in obtaining the permit, Craig said.
The permitting process for Bear Creek has taken longer than usual, Craig said, adding that the county got caught up in a number of shifts in regulations and had to revamp plans on multiple occasions based on new regulations.
Craig said he will provide a more detailed update of the project to the Board of Commissioners at a 6 p.m. work session scheduled prior to the regular Nov. 20 meeting.
Craig said his personal opinion is that construction of the dam and reservoir should proceed but that the county should "not necessarily move beyond that."
The dam and reservoir project is the first phase of the project, followed by installing pumps and a pipeline from the Alcovy River to the reservoir, and eventually building a water treatment facility. When the next phase begins will be determined by whether there is sufficient demand for additional water beyond what is supplied by Cornish Creek Reservoir, Craig said.
The most expensive part of any water supply project is land acquisition and all of that has been completed, Craig said. Timber that was cut and sold on property acquired by the county resulted in the county paying a net of about $1,700 per acre, he said.
The 1,242-acre pumped-storage reservoir will have a water intake on the Alcovy River. The reservoir is being designed to yield 28 million gallons per day.
The cost of Bear Creek Reservoir is $62,685,831, according to a press release issued by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. Newton County will receive a $21 million loan to construct Bear Creek Reservoir through the Governor's Water Supply Program. The board tabled a resolution last month that would require the county to "commit to meeting projected operating revenues and funding debt service" and preparing a rate analysis to determine the required operating revenues.
The county will pay zero interest for the first three years of construction, 1 percent for the remainder of construction, accrued and capitalized, and 1.82 percent during the repayment period once construction is complete. The county will make interest-only payments the first seven years of the 40-year loan and will pay principal and interest afterward and will not be charged a closing fee. Craig said the loan amounts to a $12 million subsidy from the state.
According to County Manager John Middleton, the loan will fund the first phase, construction of the dam and reservoir.
Once permitted and the dam design is completed and approved by Georgia Safe Dams, construction could begin in late 2013 to early 2014, Middleton previously told the Citizen, and take about 24 months to complete.
Craig said the reservoir will be built for "a bargain" compared to other reservoirs being built in the state. The $350 million price tag associated with Walton County's Hard Labor Creek project, for example, is due to several factors that won't come into play with Bear Creek: Walton County still has much land acquisition to complete; has a "big ticket" pipeline that will be necessary to pump water 10 to 12 miles from the Apalachee River to the reservoir versus the approximately 1 mile distance from the river to Bear Creek; and will need bigger pumps in order to pump the longer distance.