The Bear Creek Reservoir Project has been subject to a public review period due to the dam relocation that was recently announced by Newton County Attorney Tommy Craig. The public review period ended September 19, 2014. That process resulted in comments being sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and joint comments from the Georgia River Network, Southern Environmental Law Center and American Rivers. The Corps of Engineers and the applicant (Newton County) must address these concerns before the necessary federal 404 permit for the project can be issued.
Contrary to what the public and county commissioners have been repeatedly told by Newton County’s attorney and water consultant, Tommy Craig, the project has many problems yet to overcome before it can move forward. Unfortunately for county water customers and tax payers, the cost of the project keeps escalating as these deficiencies surface and Mr. Craig’s invoices continue to roll in. Many of these problems were identified as early as 2008 but never sufficiently addressed by the county and its consultants.
The concerns expressed in the comment letters included inadequate justification for the project based on slower county population growth and lower water consumption rates; insufficient evaluation of alternatives for meeting future water needs; failure to provide a sound mitigation plan to compensate for environmental damage; need for a full Environmental Impact Statement for the project; and concerns that reliable project information has not been provided by the county during the application and review process.
Unfortunately, the Newton Board of Commissioners is convinced the project is the key to our economic future and are unwilling to objectively reevaluate it. They continue to trust Mr. Craig to manage the project despite 14 years of failing to deliver on his promises. They refuse to consider a re-evaluation of its need or to seek alternative water sources that would be more quickly available and cheaper. Some of those alternatives include reducing loss of water in leaking distribution lines, maximizing yield from Cornish Creek Reservoir, and developing cooperative agreements to share the abundant water available in Rockdale County’s Black Shoals Reservoir and in Walton County’s Hard Labor Creek Reservoir which is already under construction.
Newton County commissioners must begin a comprehensive evaluation of this project in order to avoid a $100 -150 million mistake that will have to be paid for by water customers and taxpayers. The BOC has scheduled a work session for November 4, 2014 to discuss the project in more detail. They own this project and all its problems, and can no longer hide behind Mr. Craig’s promises and assurances. The courthouse needs to be full of citizens who are concerned about the BOC’s mismanagement of the Bear Creek Project, and who will demand that they re-evaluate its costs and benefits to Newton County’s taxpayers and water users.