County Attorney Tommy Craig attempted to sell the Newton County Board of Commissioners on the financial sense in accepting a $21 million state loan and starting on the process of constructing the long-proposed Bear Creek Reservoir.
Craig addressed some concerns from the community, including a Nov. 4 guest column in The Covington News from Larry McSwain, which raised concerns about the population and water use projections used to plan Bear Creek, as well as the proposed costs and revenue of the stated $62 million project.
Craig ran through a nearly hour-long presentation that looked at the history of the Bear Creek project and described why it was needed now as opposed to decades down the line.
The crux of the argument was that the county actually doesn't have as much water capacity currently as people think it has, because much of the stated capacity of 36 million gallons per day is actually not useable. Craig said that the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant off of current reservoir Lake Varner has an actual maximum available yield of only 20 to 21 million gallons per day. (It was not immediately clear why the stated capacity is so much lower than the useable capacity.)
And, using that number, that means that Newton County is actually already near its capacity. Craig said the county currently uses an average of 12 million gallons per day with a peak usage of 18 million gallons per day. With Baxter coming online in a couple of years and needing 1 million gallons of water day itself, Craig said the county will have little to spare during a peak usage time.
He said it could take 10 years from today to actually get not only the dam built, but the water treatment plant and piping infrastructure to transport water built as well, by which time the current capacity could be tapped out. Of course, that depends on growth projections; however, Craig said another large industry or two could easily take up most of the remaining capacity in a short period of time.
As for the value of the state loan, Craig said the county save $12 million by accepting the very low-interest loan (from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) as opposed to using traditional financing.
He said the county "can't afford to walk away from this," and that it was "foolish for this community not to accept the generous offer we've gotten..."
Craig urged the board of commissioners to accept the loan as early as Tuesday's meeting though the board could certainly delay a decision further.
County Manager John Middleton said the reservoir would not be funded by taxpayer dollars because the costs would be paid for out of the county's water fund, which is kept separate from the general fund and is supported by water revenues not property tax dollars.
At some point, there could be a small increase in water rates to pay for the costs, but the 40-year loan has no interest for the first three years of construction and a 1.82 percent interest rate after that.