Statesboro City Council awarded an $832,417 contract Tuesday for a feasibility study for the Creek on the Blue Mile project, undeterred by one consultant’s statement that securing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval and other permits could be a seven- to 10-year process.
Engineers from the Freese and Nichols consulting firm, including Eric Nease, who gave that impromptu estimate during a City Council work session Tuesday in Joe Brannen Hall, afterwards noted that the firm’s recent experience is with much larger projects where providing a water supply is the priority. With Statesboro’s smaller project focused mainly on flood abatement, the process should go faster, the engineers said.
“Three to five years would be awesome,” Nease said outside after the council workshop. “We’re going to work diligently to make it as expedient as possible.”
However, Charles E. “Chuck” Perry, CEO and president of EMC Engineering, who is also a member of the contracted feasibility study team, sent Statesboro officials an email Wednesday offering a more encouraging estimate of the time required for a federal permit. After consulting Alton Brown Jr. with Resource & Land Consultants, another of the team members and one who handles permitting directly, Perry stated that “once the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) has received a complete submittal package … the typical timeframe for processing an individual 404 permit is 12 months.”
This refers to permits issued under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
“After the workshop and the council meeting the other day, the team thought it was important to make sure that we clarified,” Perry said in a phone interview Thursday.
The question of timing is “kind of a loaded question” without a “black and white answer,” he added. Obviously, Corps of Engineers approval is not the only step in the process.
At least 2½ years
Now set to begin, the feasibility study by the contracted team of private engineers, a surveyor and other professionals is also expected to take about 12 months. If the engineering works and the project can be built, if there are no environmental roadblocks and if the city chooses to go forward, about six months more would be needed to develop construction plans, Perry said.
“Then we’ll take all of the information that was garnered in the feasibility study and the design plans and submit a complete package to the Corps of Engineers,” he said. “So you are 18 months minimum down the road from today, and then it’s our experience, with projects of this nature, that in order to get all the permitting done through the Corps of Engineers, that’s about another 12 months.”
He acknowledged that this arithmetic puts construction at least 30 months, or two and a half years, away.
“We can develop an anticipated project schedule through construction as we get further along with the feasibility phase of the project,” Perry stated in his email to the city. “We apologize for any confusion regarding this matter.”
Nease’s initial “seven to 10 years” statement had been in answer to City Councilman Phil Boyum’s request for a “ballpark, rough estimate,” of the timeline for Corps approval. Nease said this was for “overall permitting” and immediately added that “there’s a possibility that this is different” because “this is not a normal reservoir.”
Nease, Perry and Freese and Nichols Inc. Project Manager George Kelly took part in summarizing the feasibility study proposal during the 4 p.m. work session, which was an open, public meeting, at Joe Brannen Hall. After hearing updates on several projects and the city’s finances, the mayor and council adjourned and went next door to City Hall and upstairs for their 5:30 p.m. regular meeting.
It was there that the council unanimously approved the $832,417 contract with Freese and Nichols Inc. as the named consulting firm. The team identified in the presentation also includes personnel from EMC Engineering, Resource & Land Consultants, Brockington & Associates and the surveying firm Don Marsh & Associates.
City Manager Charles Penny noted the council had authorized his staff earlier this summer to negotiate the contract. The engineering team’s original fee request, shown in city reports as a little over $1.1 million, had been more than the city was willing to pay, he said.
He thanked Freese and Nichols Inc. for “working with us to get the price down to what we believe is a reasonable price for the work that’s going to be done.”
Penny also confirmed that the Creek on the Blue Mile project’s $5.5 million grant, or state direct investment, from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority will cover the $832,417 study cost.
The city also has a $15.5 million low-interest line of credit from GEFA, after both sources were promised by former Gov. Nathan Deal during his final weeks in office.
The planned feasibility study includes three phases, described item-by-item in the proposal.
Phase 1, the “flood feasibility phase,” will evaluate the use of a dam and reservoir to retain storm water and eliminate “100-year” flooding occurrences downstream on Little Lotts Creek, where a linear park is proposed past South Main Street.
Phase 2, the “site feasibility evaluation” will look at environmental aspects – including water quality and fish and wildlife – and potential effects on “cultural resources,” such as historical or archeological sites.
Phase 3, the “regulatory and permitting” phase, will address all of this to the requirements of state and federal agencies. Agencies expected to be involved in a pre-application meeting include the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
“This is a legacy project, so we kind of knew it was going to be a long time down, and whenever you’re dealing with the federal government it’s a long process,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said after the meeting. “But with that being said, I think today we made a great step by beginning the process so that those that come behind us will be that much closer to having a fantastic project for the entire community.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.