It appears that some counties and water authorities are becoming weary of the services of Newton County Attorney and water consultant, W.T. “Tommy” Craig. The latest of these is the South Fulton Municipal and Regional Water and Sewer Authority which has been attempting to obtain a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 Permit to build their Bear Creek Reservoir. Mr. Craig and his team of consultants have been unable to deliver that permit. On April 14, 2015, the authority released him as project manager according to the minutes of the authority obtained through an open records request. Interestingly, he was replaced in July 2015 by his former employees, attorneys Laura Benz and Andrea Gray, as indicated by the authority’s meeting minutes.
Mr. Craig has had a tough year. First, he has been the subject of critical reports by local newspapers and by Channel 11 TV’s Catie Beck regarding his huge federal tax liens and $1 million annual pay from Newton County. Then, according to reports in the Thomasville Times Enterprise Newspaper, Craig was replaced as project manager of Grady’s County’s Tired Creek Reservoir after being paid $1.07 million in consulting fees. Interestingly, the county hired Laura Benz to complete that reservoir which remains a dry lake bed pending resolution of mitigation problems. Now, we learn of a similar scenario at South Fulton. Craig has been replaced as project manager there after having been paid handsomely but failing to obtain the 404 permit.
These recent events indicate that Mr. Craig is having trouble completing water projects in a manner satisfactory to his employers. However, this should not come as a complete surprise because he has had similar problems in the past. In 2012, Craig was released as project manager of the Glades Reservoir Project in Hall County after being paid $1 million in consulting fees. Also, in 2007 Mr. Craig began the 404 application process for the Richland Creek Reservoir in Paulding County but is no longer employed there. And, closer to home, Walton County hired another consultant to complete the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir after Craig obtained the 404 Permit for it.
What should Newton County learn from Mr. Craig’s series of problems with water projects? First, it is difficult to obtain a 404 Permit under the best of circumstances and with the best of consultants. Reservoir construction has to be well justified based on a demonstrated need for a greater supply of water. Second, all other water supply alternatives must be shown to be infeasible; and third, the environmental damages from the project must be offset by a scientifically sound mitigation plan. Mr. Craig and his team of consultants cannot get a permit if any of these conditions are not fulfilled. The more problems with a project, the longer the application process takes and the greater cost to tax payers. Only the consultants gain from such a situation because they continue to bill for their services year after year while assuring their clients that the permit is just days away.
Most importantly, Newton County needs to recognize that despite his long, impressive resume, Mr. Craig is not infallible. He is not superman or super consultant. He may not be able to get a permit for our Bear Creek Project despite 18 years and $22 million spent so far on the project. Mistakes and misrepresentations have tainted the project and that makes federal regulators more cautious in their evaluation of it. The Army Corps of Engineers continues to question the need for Bear Creek Reservoir and Craig’s mitigation plan has faced criticism from the start. His recent decision to relocate the dam has raised additional issues. Our Board of Commissioners must come to the realization that all is not well as indicated by their February 2015 meeting with the Corps of Engineers. If a 404 permit is still years away, or completely in doubt, let’s quit spending money for Mr. Craig’s services, let’s cancel the $2 million dam design contract and let’s get on with evaluating cheaper water supply alternatives that are evident to everyone except our Board of Commissioners and Mr. Craig.