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Progress slow for Bear Creek Reservoir
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Nearly a year after the county applied for a permit to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to build the Bear Creek Reservoir, progress on the long awaited and still somewhat controversial project is slow and plodding.

Several months after County Attorney Tommy Craig's office sent the Corp requested additional information on the county's plans to mitigate the environmental affects of the reservoir, the permit application seems to be in limbo as separate governmental agencies wonder whose court the ball is in now.

Jenny Carter, an attorney with Craig's office said the county is waiting to hear back from the project manager of the Corp on any issues with the permit application that remain.

"We're waiting on the Corp to tell us what they think are the outstanding issues that need to be resolved to get the permit going," Carter said. "The ball is in their court right now."

The Corp of Engineers was unable to provide a status update on the permit application as the staff with knowledge of the application were out on holiday leave.

Kevin Farrell, assistant branch chief for the state Environmental Protection Division's Watershed Protection Branch said his agency had recently sent a letter to Newton County asking for some additional information about the anticipated environmental affects of the reservoir and was waiting for a response.

"There hasn't been a lot of recent dialogue on the topic," he said, adding "your call prompts me to look into some of this stuff."

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.

Carter said the county has taken steps to address some of the Corp's concerns with the project by among other things authorizing a new study of the cultural and historical resources of the area that the reservoir will directly impact.
That study will update an earlier one first undertaken by the county nearly 10 years ago. The Georgia Historic Preservation Division requested a reevaluation of the historic buildings and structures of the reservoir impact area because the standards used to assess historic resources in the first study have changed significantly since then. The cost of the study is $11,500.

The Bear Creek Reservoir was first conceived of in 1996 but due to a number of factors including a failed collaboration attempt with Jasper County and a sea of bureaucratic red tape, progress on the reservoir has been in fits and starts. In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended to the Corp that they deny the county's permit request.