EPD issues approval of Bear Creek

COVINGTON -- The Bear Creek Reservoir project has been signed off on by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, "indicating the state's approval of every aspect of the project," County Attorney Tommy Craig announced to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.

EPD issued the final water withdrawal permits for the Alcovy River and the reservoir and issued a 401 Water Quality Certification, said Laura Benz, an attorney with Craig's office, on Thursday.

"EPD has said it believes the project as proposed will not adversely impact water quality," she said.

That means a 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, the last step in the permitting process, is imminent. Benz said she anticipates the permit could be issued as early as spring.

"We're that much closer -- on the 5-yard line kind of thing," Benz said.

Other than the 404, a memorandum of understanding with the State Historic Preservation Office related to cultural resources must be finalized.

In November, commissioners took several big steps forward on the Bear Creek project, agreeing to accept a $21 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. Commissioners also approved the design of the dam for $1.9 million by Schnabel Engineering. The design was approved contingent on obtaining the 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the reservoir. Finally, they hired Krebs Engineering for a master water supply plan.

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. Debt service payments will begin in year eight of the loan at more than $880,000 a year.

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 previously said.

The total cost of Bear Creek Reservoir is $62,685,831, according to a press release issued by GEFA when the loan was announced.

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.