Wednesday, May 29, 2013
By Robbie Schwartz
WALTON COUNTY — Blue ribbons tied to trees scattered throughout wooded areas show where the water will pool.
Construction vehicles are busy churning up red clay on either side of what is now a small creek, resting about 110 feet below the two embankments. The first of three cranes rests surrounded by raw materials awaiting help as well as the three 150-foot spans of concrete that will serve as the most time consuming of the construction projects in realigning Social Circle-Fairplay Road.
A pine tree rests about where the water intake structure will be.
And where a bridge on Browning Shoals Road crosses Hard Labor Creek, on one side rests shoals and about a half-mile upstream, where water steadily flows over rocks and meanders through woods, construction is set to begin on a reservoir.
To date, portions of 147 different parcels have been acquired by the Hard Labor Creek Management Board, which oversee the joint venture of Walton and Oconee counties. The 2,237 acres represents 91 percent of the total land needed for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, with officials deeming all “critical parcels” for the reservoir and dam construction scheduled to be in their possession by June 1. The projected cost for land acquisition is estimated to close around $22.7 million, representing 83 percent of the funds allocated.
“Remaining acquisitions are primarily upland stream buffers, which are not critical to the overall project schedule and will be finalized during construction,” said project manager Jimmy Parker, who serves as the vice president of Precision Planning Inc. “Dam and reservoir construction will begin in August, with a formal groundbreaking ceremony held at that time.
It is a reality that many believed would not come, especially after groundbreaking for the dam was set for 2010 and instead the project was made “shovel ready” as the economy — and the need for the water source — tanked. Initially the dam was slated to be built and the reservoir nearing full pool later this year. The reality is the project would still be “shovel ready” were it not for state funding in the form of two low-interest loans. Now a project more than two decades in the making will finally become a reality three years after its scheduled start.
State officials have finalized the paperwork for the first loan, in the amount of $20 million, which will be drawn from as construction progresses for the dam and water intake structures. The intake structure is currently a clearing with mounds of mulch littered throughout the red clay. Clemson University students are doing a hydraulic study to make sure the size of pipes and pump stations will function accordingly and are developing a smaller-scale model to make sure the reservoir will function amid a myriad of scenarios.
Construction on Social Circle-Fairplay and Mount Paron Church roads is perhaps the most visible aspect of the project for residents — and it will take the longest to complete. Construction crews are about 12 percent complete with the work on Social Circle-Fairplay Road, with work scheduled to take as long as 30 months — well after the completion of the dam. Localized road closures will be experienced on both Social Circle-Fairplay and Mount Paron Church roads over the next six to eight months, with Whitney Road serving as the primary detour for access to Highway 11.
For now, the greatest hindrances for the reservoir project are acts of vandalism and thefts at the construction sites and beavers at one of the mitigation sites. But officials are ready to take those things in stride as they work toward building a regional water source that many were quick to dismiss.