Banks chairman examining reservoir concerns
Hart says county may not be able to stop Country Charms construction
BY CHRIS BRIDGES
City of Commerce officials have sent Banks County chairman Gene Hart a letter requesting he assist in enforcing the watershed protection plan which was approved in 1998.
This plan protects the Commerce watershed lake and Banks County’s Mountain Creek Reservoir. Commerce officials fear the construction of an industrial plant in Gillsville could cause damage down the road.
Hart said Tuesday, however, he is not sure the county has the power to stop Country Charms from constructing its large-scale poultry operation in Gillsville across Hwy. 52 near the Joe Craven Farm, which caused the request to be made. Commerce officials, in the letter, say the impact the operation would have on the city’s reservoir, located on the Grove River off Grove Level Church Road in Banks County, could be negative.
Bryan Harbin, Commerce’s director of water and sewer operations, told the Commerce City Council recently that contractors working on the Country Charm egg distributors’ plant had violated the state’s stream buffer ordinance and “plowed through a tributary” to the Grove River. In a story in the June 4 issue of The Commerce News, Harbin was reported as telling the city council that the EPD had “‘turned its head’ on enforcement of state erosion and sedimentation laws.”
Hart said he had received the letter from Commerce officials but has not responded.
“There are several questions we need to iron out before I can respond,” Hart said.
Country Charms has attempted to construct a processing plant on several locations, including one in Madison County. Previously, it wanted to build a location off Hwy. 326 near Duncan Road in Banks County but heavy citizen opposition caused officials to withdraw their application.
Country Charm officials bought the land near the Craven property in 2005, Hart said, and already had a permit for the operation which remains valid in 2008.
“They are in compliance right now,” Hart said. “We couldn’t close them down if we wanted to.”
Hart said he plans to work with the EPD officials when the final soil and erosion inspections are done. Banks County regulations require these inspections be done locally but Hart said he will request that EPD officials work with county zoning official Keith Covington on the matter.
“It is a complicated issue,” Hart said. “Right now we have to make sure what our options are before I respond to Commerce’s request.”
Under the watershed protection plan, Harbin said such operations are prohibited within seven miles of the reservoir. Parts of this project, which will include 10 chicken houses and later a processing plant, are within that range, Commerce officials contend.
While the chicken manure from the facility would be self-contained, Commerce officials’ main concern is the washing of the eggs as there is no sewer in the area.
In part the letter to Hart reads: “The potential contamination from this facility above the Grove River poses a direct threat to the city’s drinking water reservoir. It is in the best interest of public health that we continue to provide a safe and reliable drinking water system to both your citizens as well as our customers.”