Thursday, August 21, 2014

SPLOST could help county with dam problems

2013-10-09

By Pat Cooper

In our continuing series on what projects will be paid for using Core Infrastructure Special Local Option Sales Tax monies, Fayette Newspapers takes a look at the problems noted with three dams in the county, some of which have deteriorated to the point that state and federal officials are telling county leaders they have an immediate mandate to make repairs.
Longview Dam (AKA Margaret Phillips Lake Dam) is a Category I structure within the right-of-way of Longview Road. Similar to Emerald Lake Dam, this project brings the dam into compliance with the state’s Safe Dams Program’ Category I standards. Repairing the dam is contingent upon the upstream lake being deeded to Fayette County for use as a passive park and/or environmentally protected area. The cost for repairs is estimated at some $1.4 million. The project consists of performing the necessary evaluation, design, permitting and construction to bring the structure into compliance with the Georgia Safe Dams Act of 1978. There are two options for this project: either upgrade the dam or breach it. The cost estimate is based on the preferred method of upgrading the dam.
Kozisek Dam is a Category I structure with some of its components dependent upon or integral with Neely Road. Fayette County is in on-going negotiations with the property owner and the Safe Dams Program to absolve Fayette County of all ownership and maintenance responsibility of the structure. The cost estimate in the Project List, some $250,000, reflects the county’s pro-rated share associated with dam removal and road reconstruction. Fayette County is responsible to safely pass the flows associated with the perennial stream under the road, and the cost to do so is reflected in the estimate.
The Emerald Lake Dam is within county right-of-way and the county accepted ownership and maintenance responsibility for this structure in 1998 and this project brings the dam into compliance with the state’s Safe Dams Program’ Category I standards.
One of the most vocal opponents of the Core Infrastructure project, local environmentalist Dennis Chase, pointed first to his long career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working for the River Basin Studies group.
As an example of problems he has with the SPLOST, Chase points to one of those dam projects, the Kozisek Dam, that has alternatives for a much cheaper fix than the county government has considered.
According to Chase, when he visited the site, “I concluded that there are problems with this dam. Mostly because the road is built right on top of the dam and because there were large trees growing the entire length. Large trees, even small trees, indicate that the structure is full of roots endangering the structure.
“But here is the problem. One family owns almost everything on both sides of the dam, including the entire lake. I don’t know if the road is owned by the county or the family. However, fixing this structure will be ensuring the property owner will continue to have his own private lake.
“And, if the county is legally obligated to do this work, then we need to know a few things. First, obviously, what is the plan to fix the structure? Second, what alternatives were considered? Does this project lay long-term liability on the county? And, is the county on the hook for yearly maintenance?
“One possible alternative I would like to see is the cost of an adequately-sized box culvert installed in the dam which would drain the lake. Suppose the cost of this new culvert were to be $600,000. Why then should we be paying 1.4 million at this location?
“Taking that a step further, if the property owner demands that the lake be maintained, then it should be their responsibility to contribute the difference between the box culvert and whatever the current project estimate covers.
“In addition, if the tax payers agree to do the dam repair, then the property owner will be assessed 50 percent of the yearly maintenance costs. I’m all for saving $600,000, aren’t you? But all of that is missing from the SPLOST list.”
County commission chairman Steve Brown noted that the state government requires that the dams be brought into compliance with the Georgia Safe Dams
Act of 1978. During a recent interview, Brown said “This is a mandate from the state and it is the right thing to do to prevent possible loss of life and property.
“We have two options per the state: upgrade the dams or breach the dams. Both options have considerable costs and we currently do not have the funding for either option. Doing nothing is not a choice available to us.
“The current Board of Commissioners did not build the dams or the county roads adjacent to the dams. We are simply trying to resolve the problem.”

 

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