All work on the Bear Creek Reservoir has been suspended by a 4-0 vote of the county commission, with Commission J.C. Henderson abstaining.
In a move that caught many in the audience off guard and brought rounds of applause, Commissioner Levie Maddox made a motion to suspend all activities related to the construction of a water supply reservoir on Bear Creek.
Maddox said, "After careful prayer and much consideration, I think change is necessary."
He said he was making the motion in part to provide the community a time of reflection about where the project was headed, and suggested spending money on upgrades to existing water supply systems, including Lake Varner.
Saying it was a common sense move, Commissioner John Douglas seconded Maddox's motion. "We need to stop in our tracks, take a deep breath and look around at what's going on and what needs to go on."
Douglas said the BOC needed to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop solutions that address the county's water needs. "It's high time we do this," he said. "We need to make sure any future moves are the right moves."
"The reservoir has been such a distraction," Douglas said. "Basically a civil war in this county. We can't have the BOC and the rest of the county against each other."
Commissioner Lanier Sims also spoke in favor of the suspension of activities, saying that the BOC needed to get all the players -- the community, the BOC, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority -- onboard.
While Chairman Keith Ellis suggested that a study might be needed to determine if the existing reservoir at Lake Varner could meet the needs of the county, Maddox said, "If we need to do a safe yield analysis later on, we'll come back to it."
The reservoir at Bear Creek was first proposed more than 15 years ago to meet the demands of what, at the time, was Newton County's population explosion. The 2008 recession called into question previous population growth rate predictions, while the Environmental Protection Agency, local conservation groups and some residents have claimed the proposal failed to demonstrate serious study of cheaper, more ecological alternatives to a reservoir.
Recently, the Army Corps of Engineers also called those figures into question, administratively withdrawing the 404 Permit Application needed to move forward because the materials submitted by the county did not seem to justify the need for a reservoir.
Originally estimated to cost $62 million, the most recent projections put the total cost of the reservoir at an estimated $125 million.
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