Reservoir has strong allies

By jess

Officials meet with local reps

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By Robbie Schwartz WaltonTribune.com

Hard Labor Creek Reservoir officials began meeting with members of their local delegation last week to start hammering out a plan to try and secure funding Gov. Nathan Deal has promised for reservoirs.

The governor has set aside $46 million in bonds in his proposed budget to push for new regional reservoirs.

“This was the first time I sat down and got the overarching scope of this project,” said Walton County’s freshman state Rep. Bruce Williamson, R-Monroe, after last Friday’s meeting. “But as I continue to grasp the implications of this project, I will work toward positioning Walton County’s interests through the legislative process and appeal to the governor to give this project some of the monies promised for reservoirs.

“I share their enthusiasm for this project and hope I can be helpful in telling our story of how far along this project is and how it is as shovel ready as any other project.”

Also at last week’s meeting was state Rep. Hank Huckaby, R-Watkinsville, who, in addition to the unique position of being on the management board of the project, is also one of Deal’s floor leaders.

“The meeting really centered on evaluating where we are and discuss the project itself within the context of the governor’s announcement of funding for a statewide reservoir program,” Huckaby said. “As we go forward and get more details, we will see where the project qualifies best for state funding.”

Georgia officials are still in the midst of water negotiations with Florida and Alabama over use of the Chattahoochee River and Lake Lanier, with a 2012 deadline imposed by a federal judge looming on the horizon. At stake is the fate of metro Atlanta’s water supply.

While the tri-state water wars have been taking place, the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir has continued to develop from an idea a decade ago to becoming shovel-ready today. The project is a joint water effort of Walton and Oconee counties and is one of three reservoir projects already permitted by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. At a projected yield of 52 million gallons a day it is the largest and, with water withdrawal permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in hand and being in close proximity to Gwinnett County and metro Atlanta, the project is positioned to be a regional water supply and contender for state funding.

But Hard Labor Creek Reservoir officials have felt the gleam of hope from talks of state funding before. In 2008, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue touted millions for water projects before the bottom fell out of the economy and the state tightened its purse strings. This time the end result may be different.

“I don’t think this funding is going to go away,” said Huckaby. “Gov. Deal talked about it all summer and my discussions with him gave me the impression he is very serious about this — it is an important part of his legislative agenda and budget agenda.”

While the proposed funding program for reservoirs is being developed at the state level, it is hard to determine where and what funding will be available for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir. With 51 percent of the land obtained for the project, mitigation efforts nearing completion, design work complete for the dam as well as road relocations and water intake structure, work could begin within 180 days on the dam. If ground was broken this year, the project could offer potable water by 2014 or 2015.

For now though, project officials plan on continuing to get the word out, meeting with the remaining members of the local delegation as well as hopes of meeting with officials with the governor’s office and Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, the likely purveyor of the funding.

The message is simple.

“We could have the most immediate and beneficial impact on state water supplies, economic stimulus and job growth in northeast Georgia,” Walton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Little said.