After the revised purchase approved this week of a 3.7-acre parcel on Highway 46 for a total price of $118,176, or $32,000 per acre, Bulloch County will have potential sites in hand for the two wells it is expected to own to provide water to Hyundai Motor Group’s huge Metaplant America.
Construction of the factory complex for making electric vehicles and their batteries is now well underway in northern Bryan County about five miles from the southeastern Bulloch County line. Bryan County also is expected to provide two wells, as part of the deal by the four-county Joint Development Authority and Georgia’s state government for the approximately 8,500 jobs expected at the Hyundai plant and thousands more jobs at parts factories being built in Bulloch and neighboring counties.
But Bryan County’s two wells, although to be owned officially by that county’s government, are also expected to be located within southeastern Bulloch County because of a longstanding state environmental restriction on new wells being drilled in Bryan.
The idea of Bulloch County hosting all four wells and potentially sending millions of gallons of water daily across the county line doesn’t sit well with some Bulloch residents. Neither does the county government’s strategy of using some of the water to start its own water system serving future residential neighborhoods.
Four of the five speakers during “public comments” time at the Oct. 3 Bulloch County Board of Commissioners meeting voiced concerns or displeasure with the planned wells. Some expressed anger both about that and the county’s property tax increase, as well as the commissioners’ recent approval of rezoning for a residential subdivision over neighbors’ objections and zoning board and staff recommendations.
“Those wells were the biggest mistake we’ve made,” said Randy Proctor, the first Southeast Bulloch-area resident to speak. “That’s ridiculous, for us to have to furnish water for a Korean car plant on American soil.”
Once the wells and supply lines are established, Hyundai and other consumers will pay for the water they use, county officials have said from the first. But Proctor and other citizens are voicing another worry, that their own wells might go dry as a result of the increased pumping from the aquifer.
“This comment about if you dry my well up you’re not responsible then it’s a act of God or an act of nature, no sir, that ain’t gonna go; that dog don’t hunt,” Proctor said. “And if you’re doing that to get money from (Gov.) Brian Kemp, then that ain’t right.”
After speaking for his allotted five minutes, Proctor noted that he had talked to commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson about the wells before. Proctor said Thompson promised to get back to him before anything is done.
EPD meeting sought
As Thompson mentioned in reply, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, or EPD, will have a say in whether the wells can be drilled at the locations the county has purchased.
“We have talked, and my statement was, I will get back with you after we talk with EPD,” Thompson said to Proctor. “I haven’t, but other people are now talking to EPD, we are requesting that they come down here when the final decisions are made about water and that they address, in a public meeting, their findings to everybody that’s involved in the water situation.”
He promised to contact Proctor and another of the citizens who spoke as soon as county officials hear more from the EPD.
Both Bulloch County and Bryan County filed groundwater withdrawal permit applications with the EPD in August, according to Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.
What the commissioners approved during the Oct. 3 meeting was an amendment to a purchase contract, originally approved Aug. 15, to buy the prospective well site along Highway 46, not far from Interstate 16, from Kangeter Properties LLC. The unit price remains the original $32,000 an acre. But in August the tract was described as measuring approximately 3.0 acres, and after the survey was completed showing the actual area as 3.693 acres, the total price increased from the original $96,000 to $118,176.
The contract states that the county and Kangeter are to close on the deal on or before Nov. 1.
Commissioners approved the contract amendment as a part of a single motion and unanimous vote approving nine “consent agenda” items.
The county had acquired the first of its two potential well sites last summer. In a contract approved by the commissioners July 5, the county was to pay Randall T. Neal, Janet N. Reid and Connie N. Robinson $60,000 for a two-acre site on Old Highway 46.
7 million gallons
Bulloch County’s and Bryan County’s permit applications together are for withdrawing up to seven million gallons per day from the four wells combined and not for some of the larger volumes that have been mentioned, Couch said in a phone interview Friday.
Public meetings involving the EPD are a standard part of the process, according to the county manager.
“We filed the permit application, we’re waiting on the EPD’s due diligence, and I think I can speak for the commissioners in saying that we definitely want EPD to come to Bulloch County and help address the citizens’ concerns,” Couch said.
If for some reason one or both of the purchased sites are not approved for wells, land in that area could still be useful for a Fire Department or Sheriff’s Office substation, a community park or a voting place or some combination of those, he said.