Drought evaporates in Legislature

11 02 2009



A year ago, legislators couldn’t wait to show the public they were tackling Georgia’s epic drought. One of their first votes was to embrace a statewide water plan. And powerful lawmakers soon backed a quixotic bid to claim water from the Tennessee River. The drought still grips parts of north Georgia, and Lake Lanier — Atlanta’s main water supply — is still around 14 feet under normal level. But the environmental groups fear debate over drought has all but evaporated in the Georgia Legislature. “Water’s definitely not as high profile as it was last year,” said Jill Johnson of Georgia Conservation Voters, an environmental lobby. “But the drought hasn’t gone away, and Georgians are still concerned about their water supply.” It’s not for lack of trying. At least a half dozen proposals have been introduced by lawmakers from both parties that would spur conservation and crack down on pollution. But chamber leaders have not publicly made any of them a priority. Instead, they have said they will deliberate each proposal on an individual basis. And Carol Couch, the state’s top environmental official, said her office is focused on a statewide water management plan to help set Georgia’s water policy for decades to come. “While drought is not making news like it was a year ago, drought management remains an issue and we need to manage water use for the greatest conservation savings,” said Couch, the director of the state Environmental Protection Division. Meanwhile, there’s a growing number of lower-profile measures percolating in the Legislature. State Rep. Richard Smith proposed new rules that would make it more difficult for local governments to add septic systems, which don’t return water into the sewage system.

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EPD: Actually, About That PFOA Testing…

2 02 2009

John Sepulvado | GPB

For ten months, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division publicly said it was testing Northwest Georgia drinking water for a likely carcinogenic chemical. But now, the EPD says it never tested for PFOA in drinking water intakes.

The revelation comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a drinking water advisory for PFOA.

The chemical is found in high amounts in the Conasauga River, a source of drinking water for Northwest Georgia, including Rome. After a series of critical media stories were aired and published, the EPD announced it would test drinking water intakes for the compound. And for the past ten months, officials confirmed testing would take place.

Now, the project manager, Jeremy Smith, tells GPB there has been “a mix-up,” and that another EPD official misspoke. No further explanation was given. The EPD has no plans to test the drinking water.

The agency is still testing fish pulled from the river for PFOA, and those results are expected by spring.

Hearing draws a crowd

2 02 2009

Ross Blair | Bryan County News

Hundreds of Bryan and Liberty residents filled the Midway Civic Center on Jan. 27 for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s public meeting and hearing about a proposed wastewater treatment plant near the Laurel View River, which runs through both counties.

A large number of phone calls and 236 letters written to the EPD expressing concern about the project prompted the hearing, which started with an informational meeting.

Officials manned the tables and interacted with residents, answering questions and explaining their viewpoint.

The EPD viewpoint seemed to be the same as the Liberty County Development Authority – that the plant will not harm the ecosystem along the Bryan and Liberty coastline.

“It is environmentally sound,” said Bob Scott with the EPD. “We would not have issued a draft permit if we hadn’t reviewed the design and felt confident that the plant can meet the limits that are protective of the environment.”

Scott said he has heard the many arguments against the creation of the facility, but he does not agree with them.

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Stimulus could fund local projects

29 01 2009


Diane Wagner | Rome News-Tribune

Local officials are prepared to seek federal stimulus funding for projects, although neither Rome nor Floyd County have prepared comprehensive lists.“I’ve heard other cities are doing it, but who do you give it to? Just send it to the White House?” City Manager John Bennett said.

Provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — the stimulus package — funnel much of the money through various federal agencies to their state counterparts.

Bennett said if the Georgia Environmental Protection Division calls for projects, the city would submit plans for a sewer lift station on Horseleg Creek.

Rome also has a five-year plan to improve low-income sections of the city using federal entitlement funds. Some of those projects could be eligible for stimulus money flowing through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The Georgia Department of Transportation also has a statewide list of “shovel-ready” road projects that includes center turn lanes on Ga. 53. The 411 Connector was a last-minute addition, but the state still needs to buy the right of way so it’s unlikely to fit the stimulus package requirements.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a lot of projects that are ready to go,” Bennett said. “There are some street pavings, drainage work and sidewalk improvements we’d like to submit. But we don’t have plans for a new city hall, for example.”

County Manager Kevin Poe said the county is in a similar position. Officials are lobbying the DOT to add funding for the west leg of the South Rome bypass, he said, but it’s unclear what other projects could be eligible.

“The only thing that would be shovel-ready is the Armuchee Connector,” he said. “But we’re trying to stay away from federal dollars on that because there are more hoops to jump through.”

The $12-million road and bridge across the Oostanaula River that would link State Mutual Stadium with Old Summerville Road north of Rome is part of the 2006 special purpose, local option sales tax package.

Using stimulus money to pay for sidewalk and drainage projects on Lyons Drive and the Pennington Avenue area could, however, solve a looming problem for the city.

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Georgia Power: Nuclear critics’ data is flawed

28 01 2009


MARGARET NEWKIRK | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Power fired back at critics this week, saying dire warnings about the cost of its proposal to collect fees upfront for nuclear power expansion were mistaken.

In testimony filed with the state Public Service Commission late Monday, the utility said critics including the PSC’s public advocacy staff had mixed accounting apples and oranges to come up with their estimates. Those critics will have an opportunity to cross-examine the company in two weeks.

The company also blasted a cost-control mechanism proposed by the state PSC staff.

Under that plan, the PSC could roll back Georgia Power’s allowed return on its $6.4 billion nuclear investment if the construction project ran too far over budget.

Georgia Power said no dice.

“We must start by emphatically stating that we cannot and will not agree to the staff’s proposed ‘incentive’ plan,” the company said in the testimony.

“We will not accept a certificate that includes those regulatory conditions,” it said.

The company said its business depends on offering low rates, which is cost-control incentive enough.

Georgia Power’s rebuttal came on the eve of a state Senate committee hearing about a bill that would give the company the early funding it wants, bypassing the PSC.

The Senate Regulated Industry and Utility Committee will hear testimony on Senate Bill 31 Wednesday afternoon.

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$2.5 million GEFA loan to aid Bartow’s water service

28 01 2009


Rome News-Tribune

Bartow County will receve $2.5 million through the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) to finance the installation and the relocation of water lines.“The Georgia Fund loan program is a tangible commitment by Governor Perdue and the General Assembly to assist local governments across the state with their efforts to provide clean water and sewer improvements,” said Chris Clark, executive director of GEFA.

Clark expressed appreciation to Gov. Sonny Perdue, State Senators Bill Heath and Preston Smith and State Representatives Tom Graves, Barry Loudermilk and Paul Battles for their support.

The Georgia Fund is a state funded program administered by GEFA for water, wastewater and solid waste infrastructure projects. The program has maximum flexibility and accessibility, and offers fast loan and grant approvals. The Georgia Fund provides loans and grants to local governments for projects such as water and sewer lines, treatment plants, pumping stations, wells, water storage tanks and water meters. Low interest loans from this program are available up to $10 million.

Four Days Left for Public Comments on Metro Water Plans

28 01 2009

January 31 is the last day to submit public comments on the Metro District Water Plans which will serve as the blueprint for managing our water supply in the 15-county metro Atlanta area for the next 25 years. The plan weakens our region’s conservation goals and fails to protect water quality.

You can let the Metro District know that water conservation and clean water matter to you! Click here to urge the Metro District to embrace water conservation and help ensure that we have enough clean water for now and in the future.

To learn more, see the @ issue section of the January 25 Atlanta Journal-Constitution here or go to UCR’s website here