The Bear Creek Reservoir is the largest financial investment facing Newton County today. It is a bigger issue than the 2050 Plan and whether or not we have an illegal form of government. The commissioners must be diligent in their review of this project and not just take Tommy Craig and his team’s word for it. A misstep in either direction could be catastrophic and have lasting impacts for years to come.
During the Oct. 7 BOC meeting Mr. Craig expressed his experience by touting the amount of projects he has permitted across the state. However, he didn’t mention some glaring failures: In Hall County Mr. Craig was paid over one million dollars before being dismissed and turning in an “incomplete plan” to the County. On the Pink Creek, South Fulton Bear Creek Reservoir, the Army Corps challenged Mr. Craig on his mitigation plan and the local river keeper said, “Pink Creek is yet another example of the consultant’s failure to follow the law…” These two projects are just a couple of examples of Mr. Craig’s lack of success.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution even Mr. Craig recognizes that reservoirs without ratepayers are doomed from the start. He said, “If you don’t have ratepayers, present and future, lined up, then these projects are unaffordable no matter how much state assistance you get.” However, he seems to have changed his tune ignoring the population projections from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget from 2012.
All of these unanswered questions lead me to ask what should our BOC be doing? What is their responsibility? I am of the opinion that they have to have the right data, ask the right questions, and then make the right decision. Honestly, after attending the last two commission meetings there seems to be very little questions being asked and all of the information provided is being taken as fact.
I challenge the BOC to ask the tough questions and seek out the truth — which must be verified by independent sources. Ask yourselves: Do you have all the data? Have you read it? Do you understand it? How does the substantial downgrade in population estimates by the state impact the project? Should this $120 Million Dollar reservoir require an independent review in light of 14 years worth of work without a 404 permit and the other failures experienced by Mr. Craig and his team? Are you comfortable with Mr. Craig and his project team’s failures on other projects? Have you consulted other reservoir experts? Have you spoken personally to the Army Corp of Engineers, the EPA, or the US Fish and Wildlife Service? Have you studied other county governments who have realized economic development with the same amount of unused water resources that Newton County currently has on hand?
If the members of the Board do not ask and get answers to these and other questions then they are neglecting their responsibility and are culpable in acquiring this massive burden of debt on their fellow citizens. Make no mistake Mr. Craig did get something right: if we don’t have ratepayers then the project is unaffordable. If this project moves forward without ratepayers expect Newton County water costs and tax rates to go out of sight to pay for this reservoir.
It is critical to Newton County’s future that the BOC halt this project until it can be critically evaluated and receive independent verification.