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City spending $65,000 more with firm that led $832,000 ‘Blue Creek’ study
Penny: Engineers to amend flood maps, provide less costly alternatives for $40M-plus project
blue mile creek

Statesboro’s city government will pay Freese and Nichols, the multistate engineering and design firm that led an $832,000 feasibility study for the Creek on the Blue Mile project, $65,000 more to do an additional hydrology study of the floodplain in the project area.

City Council authorized the additional expenditure Tuesday morning. Besides updating flood insurance rate maps, the added study should allow city officials and the project’s promoters to consider less expensive alternatives to the original reservoir-based Creek on the Blue Mile Plan, said City Manager Charles Penny.

“Freese and Nichols finished the feasibility study, and they agreed to continue to do some work because as a result of that study, what we discovered is there was a large cost for a reservoir and it exceeded what we thought our cost was going to be due to the improvements that we were interested in,” Penny reminded council members.

The city had contracted Freese and Nichols, which assembled a team that included technical specialists from other firms, in September 2019 to complete the feasibility study.

In their more than 700-page report, delivered in December, the engineers projected that building the 26-acre reservoir, tiered channels and other flood-control and water-directing features would cost $40.2 million to $64.8 million. But the previously approved funding and financing from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority totals $21 million. That includes $5.5 million in direct state funding – in effect, a grant – plus a $15.5 million low-interest line of credit.

So in delivering that report, Freese and Nichols Project Manager George Kelley said the firm was willing to work with city officials  and other local people involved in the project to help “identify goals” and  “cost savings … that might help you achieve your objectives.”

 

Floodplain maps

Meanwhile, the engineers and officials recognized that the flood maps used in the study were old, Penny said Tuesday.

“The flood maps were done in the 1970s, and in the meantime we’ve had development along that area,” he said.

In the additional study, the engineers are expected to identify the current extent of the floodplain in relation to developments that have occurred.

“That will also help us to identify alternatives to be able to do the things that we’re going to create on the Creek on the Blue Mile,” Penny said.

This added study would normally cost about $130,000, he said, implying that the engineering consulting firm is giving the city a half-price discount.

The $65,000 expenditure, which Penny recommended, will come out of the $5.5 million state grant for the project, as did the $832,000 paid to Freese and Nichols and its team for the original study.

District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr asked how floodplain maps normally come into existence and whether they are updated regularly as a federal function.

“The feds are responsible for the floodplain, and (the mapping) is contracted out, but it’s not something that’s done every day,” Penny said.

 

FEMA map

The Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains an online Flood Map Service Center at https://msc.fema.gov. The map of floodplains and floodways in Statesboro shows an “effective date” of Aug. 5, 2010. The site doesn’t specify if that was when the actual mapping was done, but a Freese and Nichols memo to the city refers to it as the date a Bulloch County flood insurance study took effect.

The map shows the area around Little Lotts Creek northwest of South Main Street and extending to a smaller area to the southeast of it as the largest flood zone in town. This is the location of the proposed Creek on the Blue Mile flood control measures.

The FEMA database also includes a few more-recent map amendment letters for some specific locations around the floodplain.

A federal agency or the state government could eventually do a more general update of the map. In the meantime, the work to be done by Freese and Nichols will also result in map amendment letters, Penny indicated to City Council.

“It would be great for the state to do that – but in the meantime, if we want to see development going, we need to know where the floodplain actually is. …,” he said. “Once we do this work we can then submit a map amendment to the feds, and … they would either approve or deny our recommendations for map amendments.”

 

Scope of work

The added hydraulic and hydrology modeling study will not encompass the entire city, but only an area around the proposed Creek on the Blue Mile project.

When District 5 Councilman John Riggs asked how far the study will extend downstream, Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles said it should reach to Gentilly Road. District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum suggested that Upper Little Lotts Creek, a drainage canal-like tributary that runs through the central downtown area to the main creek, should be included.

“I’m not sure how they can do the study without including that volume of water, which can be significant,”Boyum said.

Boyles and Penny said city staff will verify the boundaries of the study. Council unanimously approved the $65,000 expenditure on a motion from Barr, seconded by Riggs. Mayor Pro Tem Paulette Chavers presided at Tuesday’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Jonathan McCollar.

 

Park aspects

In addition to flood control, the Creek on the Blue Mile, as originally proposed by a group of citizens interested in community and business development, would create recreational amenities and aesthetic features designed to attract private investment.

The reservoir would be west of South College Street. Downstream, across the Blue Mile of South Main Street, the creek channel would be deepened and widened with a tiered cross-section to support a pedestrian walkway, or promenade, and park spaces. These, in turn, are proposed to mesh with an eventual overhaul of Memorial Park at Fair Road.

A separate “Lonice Barrett Regional Recreational Park” with a dock, trails and picnic areas, has been suggested for the banks of the reservoir. 

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