Seven months after receiving the county's application to build the Bear Creek Reservoir, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still considering the project's merits as it waits for further information from the county.
Since the conclusion of the public comment period in February, the Corps of Engineers has provided the county with the packet of comments it received from the public regarding the proposed reservoir. Billy Burdwell, chief of public affairs for the Savannah District of the Corps of Engineers, said his agency has requested a more detailed report on the county's plans to mitigate the environmental affects of the reservoir.
Burdwell said the Corp of Engineers also requested more information on the quality of the wetlands along the Alcovy River that are expected to be impacted by the reservoir. If the Corp of Engineers approves of the project, it will issue the environmental 404 permit necessary for construction of the reservoir to begin.
Since receiving the request for further information in March, Jenny Carter, an attorney for the county who is working on the project, said attorneys have been going through each public comment. Due to the number of responses received, Carter said the county has requested an extension from its original May deadline to respond to the comments.
"We're really close to finalizing those," Carter said. "They're in the final review stages."
Once the Newton County Board of Commissioners has gotten a chance to review the county's response to the comments, Carter said she expects it will be sent to the Corp of Engineers in the next several weeks.
Kevin Farrell, assistant branch chief for the state Environmental Protection Division's Watershed Protection Branch said his agency is also waiting on the county's responses on its environmental mitigation plans before making a decision on whether to issue a water withdrawal permit for the project.
"The more time consuming factor is the negotiations they're having with the Corp of Engineers on mitigations," Farrell said, adding that "We try not to get too far ahead of any one agency."
Farrell said he believed the EPD would be close to making a decision by the end of the year.
Plans to build the Bear Creek Reservoir began back in 1996 but due largely to red tape and a failed collaboration attempt with Jasper County the project was stalled for a period of time. In March, the United States Environmental Protection Agency recommended to the Corp of Engineers that they deny Newton County's permit request to build the reservoir.
In a previous interview, Tommy Craig, attorney for the county, said the EPA's recommendation of denial was in line with their general stance on large land disturbance projects such as reservoirs and that their past recommendations had not stopped the successful permitting of reservoir projects he had worked on in the past.
The reservoir is intended to serve, along with Lake Varner and City Pond, a projected county population of 375,000 by 2050.
The proposed site of the reservoir is directly downstream from Henderson Mill Road Bridge where it crosses Bear Creek in the southeastern end of the county. Once complete the reservoir will encompass 1,242 acres. The impact area is 36 acres of wetland and 24 miles of stream.