initiative of District 5 Councilman Derek Duke, the city of Statesboro has
reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for help with the Creek on the
Blue Mile project and potential federal funds.
Duke had discovered a 1979 study that laid out alternatives for flood control in the Statesboro area and contacted the Savannah District office of the Corps of Engineers. One preferred alternative from 40 years ago resembles the current “Creek” plan, he said during Tuesday’s 9 a.m. council meeting.
“The director in Savannah told me that he’s very interested in participating with us, and they’re going to bring a team to Statesboro to brief the council and tell us how they could help us,” Duke said. “The key point for the council and the citizens of Statesboro is they (the Army Corps of Engineers) would pick up a significant portion of the flood control project.”
Now-former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal brought Statesboro officials and Blue Mile Foundation volunteers word in December of a commitment of up to $21 million in state financing. The project would include a reservoir west of South College Street and a scenic creek eastward across the Blue Mile of South Main Street.
The funding includes a $5.5 million grant, or “state direct investment,” which local officials say would be limited to paying for the reservoir only, and a $15.5 million line of credit from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
The city will have to repay as much as it uses of the $15.5 million, 30-year state loan, plus interest at a deeply discounted annual rate of 2.25 percent. The line of credit would also be limited to financing aspects of the creek plan directly related to holding and channeling water, local officials have said.
Duke’s motive for seeking federal involvement is to relieve Statesboro taxpayers of as much expense as possible, he said.
“Because of the concerns about the impact to the taxpayers of the city, I reached out to (the Corps of Engineers) to see if they might be of some assistance,” he said.
Duke cited $10 million as an amount that the Corps of Engineers can spend on a flood control project without specific approval from Congress.
“It’s a participatory project where the city comes up with a third of the money, basically, matching funds,” he told the mayor and other council members.
The Corps of Engineers, a branch of the Army but staffed mostly by civilian employees, is the main federal agency responsible for flood control projects. It also has regulatory responsibilities over wetlands and waterways. So, the Corps would eventually be involved in the project anyway, he acknowledged in a phone call Tuesday evening.
“There is just no better engineering planner for waterways and flood control than the Corps has, their database and all their skilled practitioners, so engaging them and getting their participation is going to mean that we stay on course,” Duke said.
Here next week
He said that the Corps of Engineers is sending a “briefing team” to talk to Statesboro officials Thursday, March 14. Officials have not announced whether this would be a public meeting. A called City Council meeting has been suggested but not yet confirmed, City Clerk Sue Starling said Wednesday.
The Statesboro Herald called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ chief spokesman for the Savannah office Wednesday afternoon. But he was on assignment in Augusta and unable to confirm the Corps’ involvement yet.
Duke, who won a District 5 special election last year to fill the remainder of a term, will be up for election again in November. A retired Air Force and Air Force Reserve officer, he also had a career as an airline pilot.
As reported last week, city staff members are preparing a request for qualifications seeking one or more private engineering firms to handle details of the project. An estimate of 25 acres has been cited as the area of the reservoir, but engineers will determine the actual size.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.