In a 10-page letter, Newton County Attorney W. T. “Tommy” Craig told the Army Corps of Engineers that the number of project managers assigned to oversee the county’s 404 dredge and fill permit may have caused confusion, misunderstanding and delays for the proposed Bear Creek Supply Reservoir.
Sent to Edward B. Johnson Jr., Chief of the Piedmont Branch of the Savannah District of the Army Corps of Engineers (COE), the letter included 68 pages of attachments, including overviews of the information supplied by the county since the permit application was submitted in 2000.
In late August, Johnson had sent Board of Commissioners Chair Keith Ellis a letter explaining that materials the Corps had requested in a meeting with Craig in February had not yet been received. In the letter, the Corps informed Ellis the county’s 404 Permit application was administratively withdrawn.
The Corps asked for documentation on the project’s purpose and need, an analysis to determine the least environmentally damaging practicable alternatives, and resolution of discrepancies between the county’s justification for the reservoir, based on projected population growth. The Newton County Water and Sewer Authority has said there is no urgency for building the reservoir and funds could be better used to upgrade and repair existing water treatment facilities.
Craig told the Corps that by law, the Commissioners, not the Water and Sewer Authority, was responsible for determining the county’s future water supply needs and developing adequate supplies.
“The lack of continuity in the Corps’ management of the application procession explains much of the Savannah District’s confusion and misunderstanding regarding this project,” he wrote. “Beyond confusion, the frequent turnover of project managers has greatly increased the cost of processing the 404 application.
“To date, Newton County has spent over $21 million on land acquisition, engineering, legal and consulting fees,” he wrote.
“Our regulatory professionals adhere to strict federal guidance and regulations when working with applicants on the permitting process,” Wicke said. “All of our regulators are experienced professionals who meet the highest standards of consistency when evaluating applications.
“If the applicant does not respond with the requested information or provide a justification why the additional time is necessary, we will consider the application withdrawn,” said Russell Wicke, Chief of the Corps’ Savannah District Corporate Communications Office.
“We have a firm understanding of the project and the application process and history,” Wicke said.
The withdrawal of an application does not mean a permit has been denied. If the permit had been denied, it would have been a final action and would require the applicant to submit a request to renew.
The county’s application for a 404 permit began in 2000, Craig said. Over the next 15 years, 10 project managers had been assigned to guide the county through the application process.
Craig denied requesting special leniency from the Corps in reviewing the application at the meeting on Aug. 25, but had asked that the same courtesy for Newton County given by the City of Jefferson when its reservoir was permitted in August 2014.
Both permits were filed around the same time through Craig’s office. The City of Jefferson received a conditional permit, allowing it to gather baseline data required to prepare mitigation design drawings and plans, as well as engineering designs of the dam and reservoir.