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Niki Collins-Queen

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Boxankle Boondoggle
by Niki Collins-Queen   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, August 01, 2011
Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011

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Who comes out ahead if the City of Forsyth in Monroe County, Georgia repairs the Boxankle water treatment plant? Why it's not the City of Forsyth or the taxpayers.

It will cost Monroe County, Georgia taxpayers an estimated 2.3 million dollars to repair the Boxankle Water Plant. Critics believe relying on Rocky Creek and the Towaliga River's watersheds would be a waste of taxpayers dollars. Both watersheds are, for the most part, dry in the summer.

Kevin Farrell, the Assistant Division Chief of Georgia's Water Protection Branch, Environmental Protection Division (EPD), expressed concern at the High Falls Towaliga Watershed Alliance meeting on May 20, 2011 that the Forsyth's City Council had already voted on April 5, 2011 to repair the Boxankle Water Treatment plant without knowing the long term low flow rates of Rocky Creek and the Towaliga River. He said the rivers are the lowest they have ever been in Georgia's history for the month of May. The May 2011 low flow water levels on the Towaliga River are currently insufficient for water withdrawal. He stressed that because of Georgia's history with low flow rivers and drought all water withdrawal sites should have impoundments.

Farrels's information raises questions about Macon-based engineer Gary Garretson's water flow studies. Garretson, who works with Elmo Richardson who's engineering company has been hired to repair the Boxankle Water Treatment plant, told Richard Dumas, the Monroe County Reporter, his study showed enough water was available in the Towaliga River for the city to pump 93.9 percent of the time from 1938-2010. Critics question Garretson's data. The gauge to monitor the Towaliga River's water flow was only installed at the Hwy. 83 bridge in 2009. There is no water flow gauge on Rocky Creek. Without a gauge there is no way to track the water flow history on either river.

Farrel said the permits obtained for the Boxankle Water Treatment Plant and the Towaliga River are only valid for redundancy (as a backup). The permits are not valid for full time use. Farrel said the EPD was told, “The goal is not to increase water supply it's simply to be a dependable back up supply.” No permit to build a reservoir on Rocky Creek has been applied for. If the Boxankle Water Treatment Plant is changed in any way such as enlarging the existing impoundment a minimum water flow protection rate on Rocky Creek would be required.

Monroe citizens should expect substantial water rate increases if the Boxankle Water Treatment Plant is repaired. Engineering firms have been recommending Georgia officials build huge expensive water plants and reservoirs to supply water not only for their current consumers but also to make money by selling it to new residence and neighboring counties. The cities that bought into this logic are sorry now.

Ask the officials who built the new Henry County's Tussahaw Water Treatment Plant. They are stuck with a new expensive water treatment facility and not enough consumers.

Ask the officials who built the Eatonton-Putnam Water and Sewer Authority. They had to substantially raise their water rates to pay their debt. A widow that takes bird baths and flushes their toilet only a couple of times a day now pays $56.00 for 1,000 gallons of water a month. The average household pays $137.00 for 6,000 gallons of water a month.

Ask the officials of the City of Canton who are considering transferring the Hickory Log Creek reservoir to Cobb County in exchange for taking on their outstanding debt obligations.

In July 2005 Gary Garretson, a then Stantec Consulting Services representative told Michael Stone a Monroe County Reporter that the Boxankle Water Treatment Plant and its permit to produce 1.5 million gallons of water a day was valued between six or seven million dollars. On February 2006 I called Garretson and asked if he was aware that Rocky Creek had major water flow and sand problems. He said he did not know. He had not been asked to determine the creek's water flow.

He said the three-foot deep sand in the creek was not a problem as silt and sedimentation was needed to purify the water. When I told him I was writing down what he said he snapped, “Don't quote me on this! Stantec has not yet signed a contract with the City of Forsyth.

When I told Garretson my research indicated that sand and silt did cause problems he said abruptly, “I have to attend a meeting” and hung up the phone.

Beth Stewart, the Executive Director of Alabama's River Society, told Katherine Bouman, a News Staff Reporter on August 26, 2006 that sandy water takes more power to clean, requires more chemicals and wears out the equipment. To maintain safe drinking water and preserve aquatic wildlife the Clean Water Act requires roads, developments and other construction sites to capture silt, sand and sedimentation after a rain.

When OMI was still working for the City of Forsyth one of their employees told my husband they were unable to keep the Boxankle Water Works machinery running because of the sand. Truckloads of sand wash down Rocky Creek every time it rains. Most of the sand comes from the roads of Smith, Zellner and Goddwyne along Red Creek, Rocky Creek's larger tributary. Rocky Creek's headwaters along Johnstonville Road does not have this problem. Riprap (large stones) have been placed where roads intersect with Rocky Creek. If riprap is not placed on Red Creek's Roads Rocky Creek's proposed reservoir will rapidly become too shallow to use as it fills with sand.

In 2004 Garretson was a consulting engineer with Stantec when he oversaw the building of Henry County's Tussahaw Water Treatment Plant and reservoir. Henry County officials sued Stantec when the Henry Countys Tussahaw Water Treatment Plant and reservoir was complete in 2010. They claimed numerous design flaws. Stantec paid the Henry County officials a substantial amount of money when they won their law suite. Garretson was let go by Stantec and now works with Elmo Richardson who's engineering company has been hired to repair the Monroe County Georgia Boxankle Water Treatment plant.

On April 5, 2011 the City Council of Forsyth in Monroe County awarded Macon based Elmo Richardson's engineering firm a contract to rehabilitate the Boxankle Water Treatment plant that has been out of service for a number of years. Richardson and Garretson's stories raise important questions.

Richardson's private company is categorized under Professional Engineers, the current estimates show an annual revenue of $500,000 to $1 million and it employs a staff of approximately 1 to 4. Richardson's company also offers Real Property Listings, Capstone Real Estate Services, Home Insurance Policies, Residential Flooring and Milbank Real Estate Services.

Richardson, who chairs the finance committee, has been a district 3 Commissioner in Macon, Georgia's Bibb County since November 2002. He was appointed to Georgia's Board of Registration of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors in March 2006 and is on the Georgia Engineer's ethics oversight board. He is chairman of the Human Resources/Information Systems and Tax Properties committees and is on the board of Directors of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

On January 8, 2008 the Water Council approved Richardson as the Chairman of the newly formed Middle Ocmulgee Region Water Planning Council under the Georgia Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan.

Richardson has an impressive resume but is his company the right one for the rehabilitation of the Boxankle Water Treatment plant? Critics say there may be political, business and financial conflicts.

Richardson told the Joint Water Planning Council on January 15, 2010 that Georgia has an abundant supply of water but the water quality is a concern. On June 6, 2011 he said water is one of Georgia's most critical issues ever since a federal judge ruled that most water being withdrawn from Lake Lanier is being done so illegally and must be terminated during a three-year stay of his order. With the backing of Gov. Deal, a Public-Private Partnerships have been authorized by the recent passing of SB 122. Local governments are now allowed to enter into contracts for up to 50 years with private entities to plan, develop, and operate new reservoirs and related facilities.

Georgia Environmental Finance Authority's (GEFA) Water Supply Division is placed in a lead role for any state involvement in such projects. $46 million was appropriated for water supply projects for GEFA, which is the first part of $300 million pledged by Gov. Deal over four years.

The Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Planning Act was signed by Governor Sonny Perdue on May 13, 2004 to ensure that "Georgia manages water resources in a sustainable manner to support the state’s economy, to protect public health and natural systems, and to enhance the quality of life for all citizens."

Can Richardson serve as chairman of the Middle Ocmulgee Region Water Planning Council, make a profit in his engineering firm and be objective when it comes to the best interests of the Monroe tax payers?

Richarson is no stranger to allegations of ethics violations. In June 2008 a formal Complaint of ethics violations was filed with the Georgia State Attorney's office against Stantec Engineering and Commissioner Richardson by the “The Friends of Forest Hill Road” in Macon, Georgia. They claimed Richardson, a vice president of Stantec Consulting Services, not only posted his political signs where he worked at Stantec Engineering but in his capacity as a Bibb Commissioner, participated in considerations and actions concerning business and financial matters involving Bibb County and Stantec.

“The Friends of Forest Hill Road” say there is a conflict of interest. Richardson is not in a position to be objective and maximize the value of the of the Bibb County voters tax dollars and, as vice president of Stantec Consulting Services, be responsible to Stantec's shareholders.

Another complaint was filed with the state engineering board over the widening of Macon's Forest Hill Road. A Macon man alleged Bibb County Commissioner Richardson acted unethically in the Forest Hill Road widening project. Richardson denies that, saying he hasn't voted on any Forest Hill Road projects related to Stantec since becoming a commissioner in September 2002.

The Forest Hill Road project was controversial before the complaint was filed. Some residents, including Carol Lystlund and Lindsay Holliday have been trying to stop the project for years.

They say widening the road and adding lanes would destroy the character of their north Bibb County neighborhood.

The complaint alleged companies tied to Elmo Richardson made more than $2.3 million off Forest Hill Road projects in the last decade, opponents plan to work even harder to stop the project. Lystlund said, "I would definitely advise Richardson to withdraw from any discussion, from even being in the room where the discussion is taking place." He should put integrity first when considering Forest Hill Road.

Richardson said his previous engineering company, Tribble & Richardson, won contracts for the road project well before he was elected commissioner in 2002. The commissioner also pointed out that almost two years before taking office, he sold Tribble & Richardson to Stantec. He said, "Actually, those contracts go back to 1997 and 1998, which were originally Tribble & Richardson contracts, and when I sold my business to Stantec in November 2000, then, of course, those contracts were assigned to Stantec." Richardson rents office space to Stantec and served as vice president of Stantec until December 2005 when he retired.

The complaint says Stantec earned more than $300,000 from Forest Hill Road projects since Richardson became a commissioner and that he voted on some of the projects. Richardson denies he voted as a commissioner to award contracts to Stantec. He said, "I did not vote on anything that had anything to do with extending those contracts or anything directly relating to those contracts."

Richardson did say he voted to allow Forest Hill Road to be designated a state route, which paved the way for more state money to widen the road.

Lindsay Holliday, an opponent of the widening project, said Richardson shouldn't be voting on Forest Hill at all. "His company Stantec has made quite a bit of money on this project. We think it's only right that he should recuse himself from any further deliberations and votes."

Richardson himself sits on the state board that received the complaint against him. But Richardson said he'll remove himself from the proceedings when the board considers the complaint.

The ethics complaint was later dismissed without comment.

Critics say Richardson votes on self-serving projects.

Bud, my husband is on the Georgia Environment Protection Divisions (EPD) River's Alive Advisory Board in Atlanta. He said the EPD's information about the Towaliga River, Rocky Creek and the Boxankle Water Treatment plant does not match up with what Elmo Richardson's engineering firm has told the Forsyth City officials.

Richardson's story raises important questions: Is it in the best interest of the Georgia Taxpayers to have engineers, politicians, business owners, developers, real estate agents and farmers protecting Georgia's watersheds? Why does the Georgia's Environment Protection Divisions (EPD) have an advisory board composed mostly of engineers, politicians, business owners, developers and real estate agents? Are we asking the fox to look after the hen house?

Update: Environmental Protection Division (EPD) meets with Forsyth, GA officials and city water engineer consultants

Forsyth Mayor Tye Howard requested members of the Forsyth public utilities committee and the city water engineer consultants Gary Garretson and Elmo Richardson meet with Kevin Farrell, assistant branch chief of Environmental Protection Division's (EPD) Watershed Protection and Clay Burdette, program manager of the EPD's Watershed Protection Branch.

Richard Dumas with the Monroe County Reporter also attended the July 25, 2011 meeting and his article “State: Towaliga may be too dry to give city water” was published on July 27.

Burdette and Farrell said the Boxankle water treatment plant would only be effective as a back up water supply if the city built a reservoir because the Towaliga River's flow would be too low for pumping around 200 days a year. They suggested the city carefully evaluate other options such as increasing water storage capacity at the Russellville plant, partnering with Monroe County officials to use the Ocmulgee River or forming a backup agreements with neighboring county governments.

Howard recommended the city look at the long term cost of the city's sustainable water flow and stop considering the Boxankle rehab an individual project. The city counsel members asked Garretson and Richardson to look at the cost of some of Burdett's alternative suggestions and compare them to the Boxankle rehab project and the future 150 acre reservoir.

Burdette and Farrell said the Boxankle rehab and reservoir could cost at least 8 to10 million dollars. They said no city in Georgia the size of Forsyth has needed two reservoirs and two water treatment plants. They believe the future population growth projections of Forsyth and Monroe County are not large enough for the EPD to grant the Boxankle Plant an operating permit for growth purposes.

They said the Boxankle water treatment plant should never have been built on Rocky Creek's tiny 23 X 24 square mile watershed without a reservoir. Richardson, the lead engineer for the original project, said he would not have built the treatment plant had he known the City Officials were not going to build a reservoir.

 

Web Site: Georgia Comprehensive State-wide Water Management Plan



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