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County leaders discuss the issue of the IDA-owned Seagraves Lake Dam with the public

A dam that the county industrial authority purchased over a decade ago to utilize as a potential water source has turned into a headache for county leaders as they look for a way to upgrade the potential hazard of the dam at the least cost to taxpayers.

About 30 people attended a public hearing in the public meeting room of the historic county courthouse to discuss the situation last week. Those present included lake property owners, concerned citizens, board of commission members, county engineers and IDA members.

The county took ownership of the Seagraves Lake Dam in 2007 with the intention of repairing it and using the lake as a water source. Brian Kimsey and Clayton Hunnicutt of Carter Engineering gave a presentation to the crowd, explaining that the dam is considered a Category I “high hazard dam” and that they have since determined that the lake is not a feasible water source for the county, leaving the IDA with having to upgrade the dam to mitigate the potential hazard in the event of a dam breach.

Kimsey said there are two major concerns: minimizing the reduction in the lake level for property owners along the lake and while also minimizing costs to taxpayers for repairing the dam.

When state senator Frank Ginn became the IDA’s executive director over a year ago, he requested that engineers do a study to determine how many homes would be in danger should a breach occur. They have since found that only one home would be affected.

Several meetings were held in recent months with lake property owners and with the homeowner of the endangered home to discuss the IDA’s options.

Ginn said the board’s primary objective now is to mitigate the hazard at the least expense to taxpayers. That option seems to be to repair the dam at a cost of about $25,000, which would make the dam a Category II under the state’s Georgia Safe Dams regulations, with no further action necessary, according to Ginn and the engineers.

Other options include lowering the dam, which would take the 29-acre lake down to 10 acres or less, purchase and demolish the home in the breach zone, or remove the dam completely, essentially destroying the Seagraves Lake.

Ginn said according to auditors, the county has already spent over $400,000 on the dam since taking ownership of it.

Ahead of the meeting, lake property owners sent a letter to the IDA and board of commissioners requesting that the IDA make a “sincere effort to do the right thing to honor the original contract with the Seagraves family,” which included saving the lake; that a total breach of the dam not be done; that the IDA make a “sincere effort” to purchase the downstream home by negotiating with the homeowner for a price for the home and to declare the flood area a hazard zone to prevent any other habitable structures from being placed there.

There were also discussions about the history of the lake and what it means to the community in terms of recreation and as a means of water supply for the volunteer fire departments.

Several members of the audience questioned why the dam could not simply be returned to the Seagraves family, leaving them with the burden of repairing it and said they objected to any more of their tax money being used toward the project.

Ginn pointed out that the only difference between a Category I dam and a Category II dam is that with a Cat II there is no habitable structure where there would be an imminent loss of life. He said officials realize how important the dam and the lake is to the community and that he is working as both the IDA director and as a senator to mitigate the situation.

Ginn told the group that he plans to introduce legislation to the Georgia legislature this session that would place the burden on any property owner who wants to build or move a habitable structure into the breach zone of a Category II dam to place upgrades (at their expense) on that structure to withstand the potential hazard of a dam breach. He said this would prevent Category II dams from being placed back on the Category I “hazardous dams list” when someone builds in the breach zone and would save the taxpayers the expense of hardening those dams, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

“This (legislation) would be a tremendous cost savings to the taxpayers in Georgia,” Ginn said. He said the state currently owns 357 dams, which while they are a tremendous cost, are also a tremendous public benefit to the environment and to the public in the form of recreational opportunities.

Ginn said the IDA is expected to vote on the next step with the Seagraves Lake Dam after this legislative session is over.


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GRP cited for 'fugitive emissions' violation

Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) was issued an environmental violation in December by state regulators for mishandling chipped wood that was being blown onto neighboring property.

“In this case, it was specific to particulate matter coming from where the conveyor dumps regular wood chips (no railroad ties) onto the wood pile,” said Sean Taylor, manager for the Stationary Source Compliance Program for the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Air Protection Branch. “The height of the conveyor was significantly higher than the height of the wood pile and wind was blowing smaller pieces onto the neighbor's property.”

GRP had not responded to a request for comment on the matter as of press time.

The EPD said the company did not follow regulations regarding “fugitive dust” or “fugitive emissions.” The agency said it has received a number of complaints about emissions from the plant since the business started in 2019.

“The causes of the reported emissions complaints have been determined to be the result of the either operational procedures, inoperable control devices or the use of improper equipment,” stated Taylor in the EPD’s Dec. 23 notice of violation to GRP.

The EPD met with GRP to discuss the issues Dec. 4. They discussed pictures and videos received from GRP neighbors.

“Since that meeting, additional fugitive emissions complaints have been reported,” wrote Taylor. “The company stated that a chute will be ordered and installed on the fuel conveyor system. The Division alleges that the company violated conditions of the permit by failing to maintain and operate the facility in a manner consistent with good air pollution control practice for minimizing fugitive emissions.”

GRP was ordered to respond to the violation notice within 30 days with a written program on how fugitive emissions will be handled, including “specific procedures for employee training, standard operating procedures, corrective actions and record keeping.” Corrective actions, such as modification of processes and equipment, and a schedule for when such actions will be taken were also required. The EPD also asked for documentation that the chute for the conveyor system has been ordered, along with an estimated time of arrival and schedule of installation.

“The information provided by the company will be reviewed by the division and used to determine if further enforcement action, including monetary penalties, is warranted,” wrote Taylor.


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Knight begins new role with county extension office

Carole Knight says she is here to help.

The new Madison County Extension Agent for Agricultural and Natural Resources wants to provide local farmers and citizens with whatever resource they need to improve their lives as it relates to agriculture.

“I want people to know that I am here to help them in whatever capacity that might look like, whether that’s just riding around with someone to look at cows with them or we’ve got a serious turf problem going on,” she said. “I’m here and available and it’s really what I’m passionate about and what I enjoy doing.”

The Bulloch County native, who replaces former extension agent Adam Speir, was heavily involved in ag activities at an early age.

“I was involved with youth livestock and really all things 4-H has to offer because my dad was an extension agent,” she said.

Knight and her husband, Kyle, have a son, Beau, 7. The family moved from Bulloch County to Comer before Christmas.

They had a farm at their previous home and remain cattle farmers at their new home. Knight estimated that the family will keep 40-to-45 cattle at their new home compared to about 60 in Bulloch County. She said she hopes to help farmers, adding that she is one of them.

“I want folks to know that I feel like I’m one of them,” said Knight. “I raise cattle, too. We farm on the side. So I do those same kind of day-to-day things that they’re doing. I want to be able to serve as a resource. No, I don’t know everything, but I have learned who to call to find the answers, or I will do my best to find the answers wherever those may fall.”

Knight attended the University of Georgia and received a Master’s degree in animal science. She started her own business providing ultrasounds for cattle producers.

“You ultrasound cattle to take the measurements that they would normally take after the animals are harvested, such as the ribeye area, how much fat, marbling, quality,” she said. “And we were able to do that on live animals. So it was kind of a new technology that was coming out in the early 2000s when I graduated. It was fun, just a lot of road traveling.”

Knight took a beef cattle specialist job in the extension office in Statesboro, then accepted a county position in 2011.

The new extension agent said she is excited about the latest change.

“My husband and I were looking for a new challenge, a new opportunity and something more in my wheelhouse of livestock,” said Knight, noting that Bulloch County farming is heavily row crops. “So that’s what brought us up here. Livestock and pastures and hay is really my forte of what I like to do and where my knowledge base is. Madison County really appealed to me and that’s what really drives agriculture around here in addition to the poultry industry, of course. It was just more emphasis on the things that I like to be involved in.”

Knight said agriculture is important for all, whether a farmer or not. She wants to help highlight the role of agriculture in everyone’s life.

“It’s important for the public to understand where their food is coming from but to also understand the other great things agriculture does as far,” she said. “Agriculture is really good for the environment. Who cares more about the environment than the people gaining their livelihood from it? The stewardship and community it forms around the people involved, the love of land, the love of wildlife, nature and animals, and all the things it encompasses, and how much passion the people involved in it show for what they do.”

To contact Knight, call 706-795-2281 or email clh@uga.edu.


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Danielsville OKs rate hikes

Danielsville officials approved a significant hike in water and sewer rates Monday, citing the need to boost rates to qualify for grant funding.

“An average residential household can expect to see a monthly increase of approximately $5 in water fees and $7 in sewer fees,” wrote Danielsville City Clerk Susan Payne in a press release about the rate changes.

Meanwhile, rates for the county school system and government offices will see a hefty increase. The City of Danielsville provides water and sewer services to schools in Danielsville as well as the county government, including some facilities within and outside of the town.

The school system’s water/sewer bill was $2,435 for December. Under the new rates, that same bill will go up to $6,042, a 148-percent increase. The county government, which was paying out-of-city water rates to Danielsville for some services, paid $7,321.24 for water/sewer services in December. Under the new rates, that payment would be $10,392, a 42-percent increase.

City officials said the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) turned the city down for water and sewer grants, because the town wasn’t charging enough for its services.

“We tried applying for a USDA loan for improvements only to be told ‘no,’ that the city wasn’t charging enough for water and sewer services,” said Danielsville Mayor Michael Wideman before the council’s unanimous vote to approve the increases Monday.

City officials said the rates have been lower than the state average and surrounding areas. And officials said they don’t want to see city residents bearing the burden of school and county infrastructure needs.

“The City of Danielsville, being county seat for Madison County, has long struggled when it comes to balancing the needs of its citizens, growing economic development and servicing the needs of the county government and public education facilities serviced by its infrastructure,” wrote Payne. “The corporate limits of Danielsville are comprised of approximately 46 percent of exempt/non-taxable real property — that’s almost half. While it is strategic to locate government facilities and educational institutions as such, the burden of infrastructure can’t be solely placed on the residential citizens of Danielsville.”

Payne said that city officials reached out to county and school officials “for possible solutions to reducing debt obligations and to seek additional funding from the 2020 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) agreement, which failed after several months of discussion.”

Payne said the new rates “allow for a more accurate reflection of the use and availability of services to these types of facilities.”

“By using this type of rate structure, the residential citizens are not forced to carry the burden of servicing the institutional facilities served by Danielsville’s infrastructure,” she said. “Every user will see an increase on their bill; however, the average residential citizen will see the least increase and the institutional facilities will see the larger increase.”

Payne said the city has made infrastructure improvements in recent years and plans to make more.

“By way of SPLOST, the City of Danielsville has made improvements in both the water and sewer infrastructure over the past several years,” wrote Payne. “With the new Hwy. 29/Hwy. 98 roundabout, new, larger-sized water lines were installed, which provided for better fire protection, and water pressure, in general, for our citizens along that corridor. The city has also been able to make its first step in improvement to its wastewater pond by installing a new diffused air system just this past November. The new diffused air system is showing improvements in the wastewater pond, but the city has a way to go in order to continue growth within its city limits.”

Madison County School Superintendent Michael Williams and county commission chairman John Scarborough were not pleased with the new rates.

“This is the first I have seen of water rate hikes,” said Williams. “I knew there had been some discussion about the possibility, but I have not been notified that a 148-percent increase would be voted on by the council. A 148-percent increase is excessive! The school system will go from paying $25,000 a year in water to $60,000 per year (10 months). That is excessive! We do not get charged that much for water at our other schools. I hope to speak with the mayor and council soon and hope they reconsider these rates.”

Scarborough echoed Williams’ sentiments.

“I hope to speak with the mayor and city council as well,” he said. “I would like to know how this rate was computed. We are two weeks into our fiscal year and this certainly was not budgeted for.”

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business Jan. 13, the city approved its 2020 budget Monday. Water expenses are projected at $292,505 and sewer expenses are anticipated at $231,295. Water revenues are projected at $324,200. Sewer revenues are anticipated at $197,420.

The council approved a zoning request by Jay Pridgen to rezone a five-acre tract in Sherwood Subdivision from agriculture to residential. Pridgen explained that he has remodeled two mobile homes on the property, but that he’s probably going to remove a third mobile home that is in disrepair. He said the rezoning will give him the option of placing another home on the lot without violating current zoning regulations.

The police department responded to 129 calls in December, including five accidents and two assault or battery cases. The department issued 24 citations and 14 written and verbal warnings. Projected fines for December were $4,489. The department collected $1,106 in fines and fees from outstanding city probation cases.

The city council approved the following city appointments for 2020: Rushton and Co., city auditors; Robert Sneed, city judge; Bubba Samuels, city attorney; B.G. Turnipseed Engineering, city engineer; Susan Payne, city clerk; Jonathan Burnette, police chief; Daniel Turpin, public works supervisor; Moore Vault, grave digger; Madison County Elections, election superintendent; Joseph Federico, mayor pro-tem; and Kayla Ballew, IT consultant.


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MLK celebration set for Jan. 20

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration by the Madison County Pastor’s and Layman’s Fellowship will be at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Hwy. 29 North at noon, Monday, Jan. 20.

The guest speaker will be retired Magistrate Judge Harry Rice.


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Ginn approaches Jackson Co. about water supply

Madison County has asked the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority for water and a 30-year agreement for the service.

Jackson County authority manager Eric Klerk said the request is a big decision because if approved, it would be the first time the county would provide water outside of the four member counties of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority.

During a meeting held Jan. 9, the board reviewed Madison County's request. Klerk aid other members of the UOBWA — Clark, Oconee and Barrow counties — would have first right of refusal before the authority agreed to sell to Madison County, which isn't part of UOBWA.

The request for water came from Sen. Frank Ginn, who also serves as the executive director of the Madison County Industrial Development Authority.

Ginn requested the authority consider going outside the standard three year water sale agreement and instead enter into a 30-year agreement at a cost of $2.30 per thousand gallons.

Klerk said $2.30 is an old price and under the current agreement, another government currently contracting with the county is paying closer to $3.00 per thousand gallons.

Klerk said if the authority were to agree to sell water to Madison County, staff would recommend an assessment of a $7,000 minimum monthly fee to help offset the cost, estimated at $225,000, that would be incurred to run 2,200 feet of line to make the connection.

Ginn said the expense to Madison County would be significantly higher than the cost to the authority due to the amount of line needed to meet the authority connection and an agreement of more than three years would be needed in order to recoup that expense.

“I think 30 years is a lot to ask, particularly since Braselton, Commerce and Jefferson are getting three (years,)” said board member Pat Bell. “This authority, and my job here, is to protect the water in this county for the people in this county.”

No action was taken by the board on the request.