With only a week to go before final approval of the project list, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners held a final public hearing on the proposed Core Infrastructure Special Local Option Sales Tax.
“We actually have the project lists from the municipalities and they have been posted to the county website,” said county administrator Steve Rapson. “In addition to that we have answered specific questions and posted those online as well. At this point, we’re presenting our projects, as the county itself, and we will be adopting the municipalities’ lists later, on September 5.”
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.
“The Clean Water Act was set to cover a whole series of issues. The Environmental Protection Agency required virtually every community and every state to have some sort of system to address stormwater runoff issues. It’s such a hugely complex issue, that the federal agencies couldn’t even begin to address the complexities of it. It was set upon the people who are most involved in it.”
With a number of requirements communities have to adhere to, said Chase, the first and foremost was to identify anything and everything that impacts stormwater movement. Chase said he’s been asking the county for the list since 2010.
“References have been made to $3 million worth of project work that needs to be done. I wanted to see that list and it took until July of this year before we got the list. The purpose for getting the list was to get staff and citizens to understand what’s happening with the runoff and then design what it takes to address those issues.”
Chase said the resolution usually involves a stormwater drainage plan and what is happening within each watershed.
“All of this--- as a scientist I can deal with what’s in front of me. A written report and analysis so I can go out on site and see if there’s anything I can approve or remove. Prior to the list of 181 I was presented with two different sets of information: One was a massive 500-plus page document of data that was virtually useless. It wasn’t even close to what I asked for.”
Chase said he received a list of 36 maps with problematic areas and had “no way of knowing which was most significant.” He said he was able to see, with Fayette County Water System Director Tony Parrot, some 60 different locations, 37 pipes and 87 drop structures to “get the idea of what was being proposed by the county and it bothered me.
“I stood on some sites and had to ask, why were we here? I could see some failing of pipe lines, a couple with gravel and large rock in the pipeline. That stuff has been in the pipe for 25 years and there is no reason to replace perfectly good pipes.”
Chase also took issue with comments made about the pipes being 25 years old and needing replacement.
“That’s wrong. Metal pipe that constantly carries a source of water breaks down. Metal pipes that only carry water for a few hours at a time during a rainstorm, do not need to be repaired. There are two on my property that have been there for 40 years and will last another 40 years.
“The pipes we’re having a problem with are the pipes that have a stream flowing through it and then the rust can start becoming a problem and there can be erosion issues.”
Chase said he walked many of the watershed sites, looked at the small tributary that goes to Lake Horton, where there are about 450 acres of watershed.
“There are three projects on this list of 181. There are six culverts, that cross under or through it. I went out there with tape measure, size of pipe and converted to square feet of capacity. At the upper end of the watershed is Hall Place Road, and that culvert has a capacity of five square feet. Broome Road is seven square feet, Chappell Road is 38 square feet, as does Stable Creek Road; Rising Star Road has 56 square feet and Brooks-Woolsey Road has 36.
“The county’s proposal here is to fix numbers two, three, five and six. So we’re going to go from seven square feet to 80 square feet, and that’s less than 100 yards down the road that has five square feet. We’re going to spend $322,000 to fix Broome Road, for some reason, and the next one down - Chappell Road-goes from 38 to 80 and it does have some need to repair, that one does have some need for repair but there’s no rhyme nor reason I can find to go to 80 feet.”
Stable Creek Road, Chase pointed out, just below a small lake in a subdivision, is at 38 square feet and will stay there
“Rising Star goes from 56 to 120 and Brooks-Woolsey goes from 86 to 125. It makes no sense because there are still a few undeveloped lots in the residential area and there’s still a lot of open ground upstream, which tells me we can be overwhelming the very thing we’ve changed.
“Those four projects total $1.25 million and we have no idea whether this is going to be adequate or not. What makes it dangerous is that you don’t know either. This is just one small watershed, three projects out of 181. That’s not acceptable.”
Chase did say that the course the county was taking on repairing three of the county’s dams ‘may’ be acceptable.
“The one on Longview Road is in one of the worst conditions ever seen and is in desperate need of repair. I don’t believe you can do it for the $1.4 million you said it can be done for.”
Chase’s estimate, he said, is $600,000 to break down the dam, drain the lake and put in a bridge and a big box culvert, then let the land return to a wetland area.
“If you decide to fix the whole thing for the $1.4 million, you have to add more money back to that to buy it from the lady who owns it, unless she’s going to donate it. If you are going to do this you need to do it with full evaluation of everything going on.”
One of the few projects Chase approved of was the one on Brittany Way, saying that the watershed is virtually built out and very little if any development will happen in that area.
“This is one of those junk lots that come up every now and then. When you stand on that corner (Brittany and Avalon Way) every direction is uphill. And I’m not sure that $57,000 will ever fix the spot, but if you’re going to do it, this is one that makes the most sense.”
Chase winnowed the county’s project list down to four projects - the three dams (Emerald Lake Dam, Kozisek Dam and Longview Dam) (AKA Margaret Phillips Lake Dam) and Brittany Way.
“If you don’t know and if you’re racing to fix something, you’re going to make mistakes.”
Osvaldo Sanchez, whose home on Avalon at the corner of Brittany Way has been the subject of six years of flooding problems, also stepped to ask the county to move expediently to deal with the stormwater problems.
The Brittany Way drainage problem is a Category I problem on the county’s infrastructure repair list and is estimated to cost over $57,000.
Sanchez is supportive of the county’s Special Local Option Sales Tax idea, since he points out that anyone shopping in the county will be paying into the repair fund.
“Sure, people are going to oppose an increase in taxes, but what are our other options. We either get something from everyone who does shopping in Fayette County or we get hit with the stormwater tax and get one property funded every few years. Something needs to be done. I like where I live and I don’t want to move out of Fayette County.”
Brittany Way resident William Grant says he’s been dealing with the same types of flooding issues since 1978 and it has made the basement of his home virtually useless and made it impossible for him to sell his home.
“I don’t know how much we lost from water damage. I couldn’t sell my house if I wanted to because nobody would buy it. I’d have to sell it for half what it’s worth. I want the county to take a hard look and get something done.”
The commission will be holding a special called meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5 to approve the county’s project list, adopt the municipalities’ project lists and to place the SPLOST referendum on the November ballot.