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Bear Creek project OK'd by Ga. EPD
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The Bear Creek Reservoir project has received a stamp of approval from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, as EPD has issued the final water withdrawal permits needed for the project. County attorney Tommy Craig made the announcement at the Feb. 5 Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Laura Benz, an attorney with Craig’s office, said EPD has issued the final water withdrawal permits for the Alcovy River and the Bear Creek Reservoir and has also issued a 401 Water Quality Certification for the project.

Benz said the approval essentially means that EPD sees that the project as proposed would not have adverse impact to water quality for the state. The 401 Water Quality Certification is required before a 404 permit can be issued from the Army Corps of Engineers.

"The state has essentially given all the necessary approvals for the project," Benz said. "Now we are just waiting on the final authorizations from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is the 404 permit."

Benz said other than waiting on the 404 permit to be issued, a memorandum of understanding related to cultural resources must be completed.

"We are in the final stages of the cultural resources MOA, which is the memorandum of agreement signed off by the Army Corps of Engineers and the State Historic Preservation Office," Benz said. "That’s in the final process. We hope to have that done very, very shortly and then hopefully, the 404 permit will be soon thereafter."

She explained that now that Bear Creek Reservoir has received all of the state approval, the attorney’s office is now just waiting on the federal permit.

The final cost of the reservoir is expected to be $62.68 million, but Craig previously said those costs don’t have to be incurred until well after the reservoir is built.

In November 2012, the Newton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved accepting a $21 million state loan for the construction of Bear Creek Reservoir and also approved hiring Schnabel Engineering to design the dam for the new reservoir; the design work is expected to cost around $1.9 million. The dam design contract was approved contingent upon the county getting the government permits needed to actually begin construction.

In addition, the board approved for Krebs Architecture and Engineering to do a $25,000 preliminary study to see how much it would cost to develop a master water supply contract.

The $21 million, 40-year loan has very affordable rates and will pay for the construction of the dam and reservoir, which is expected to take about two years. The loan was awarded by the Governor’s Water Supply Program; the actual money comes from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Newton’s loan calls for 0 percent interest for the first three years of construction and 1 percent interest for any construction time after that, which doesn’t have to be paid at the time but can be added to the loan amount. Then for the remainder of the 40 years, the interest rate will be 1.82 percent, with the first seven years consisting of interest-only payments and the remaining years of principal and interest payments. There are also no loan closing fees.

Construction is expected to take about two years, and then the reservoir would likely be filled with natural rainfall afterward around 2018. Eventually, the reservoir is expected to provide a maximum of 28 million gallons per day.