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Engineering team finds flood-control reasons to proceed with ‘Creek’ study
Contracted study team has 2 more research phases ahead before plan goes to regulators
George Kelley
George Kelley

George Kelley, project manager with Freese and Nichols, reported to Statesboro City Council and the Creek on the Blue Mile Commission this week that the contracted engineering team has completed the first phase of the $832,000 feasibility study for the creek project.

In Phase 1, the “flood feasibility study,” consultants considered whether a reservoir and dam built in the “Upper Little Lotts Creek basin” and changes to the creek channel can be used to reduce flooding in an area downstream, southeast across College Street and South Main Street toward Fair Road.

That is where local proponents of the plan hope to spur commercial and residential development around a creek-centered linear park and improvements to existing Memorial Park. One of Kelley’s slides also showed a separate park space with a dock, walking trails and a picnic area at the end of the reservoir, or lake, itself.

But the current study focuses on flood control and water supply aspects, environmental effects and feasibility.

“The real conclusion of our report today is that it’s good news in terms of what everyone was expecting,” Kelley said. “We think that it does present something that does look feasible at this point, but like I was saying, it only reports on Phase 1, and there are two other phases to follow this one.”

He spoke to the mayor and council through a teleconferencing connection during their Tuesday afternoon work session.

Freese and Nichols, an engineering and infrastructure consulting company with offices from North Carolina to New Mexico, has the lead in conducting the detailed study under an $832,417 contract with the city of Statesboro. EMC Engineering Services, which is headquartered in Savannah and has a Statesboro office, is also involved, as are technical specialists from some other firms.

EMC Engineering CEO Chuck Perry, Kelley and District 4 Councilman John Riggs appeared on the screen beside the various slides. The other four council members, Mayor Jonathan McCollar and some city staff members were present in-person.


Done in Phase 1

Kelly summarized what had been done in Phase 1.

“The 100-year flood plain, and the mitigation of that 100-year flood along that flood plain, is one of the criteria we’re that we’re working on here and what we’ve been analyzing and evaluating for the past couple of months,” he said.

His slide at that point, an overlay of a high-altitude photo of central Statesboro, showed the 100-year flood plain, extending northwest from the railroad along the existing creek, and the much wider 500-year flood plain extending beyond it. A 500-year flood plain is an area likely to be flooded once in 500 years, on average.

The map showed a “floodway,” narrower than the total flood plain, extending out from the creek, and widest from the railroad to South Main Street. This is an area where no building or other development is allowed, Kelley said. Regulations require that it be kept clear so that floodwaters can drain away.

Another slide showed the floodway mostly narrowed to the creek channel after mitigation steps, including construction of the dam and reservoir upstream.

Also in Phase 1, consultants evaluated whether the reservoir can maintain a continual flow of water for the linear park, provide a “backup surface water supply” and serve as a focal point of a “Lonice Barrett Regional Community Recreation Park,” Kelley noted.

Former Gov. Nathan Deal suggested the park would be named for Barrett, local sources have said. Some local officials have referred to it as a future state park, but it is not currently named or funded as such. It would include a dock at the lake, trails and picnic areas.

The so-called linear park features are proposed for the other side of South Main, toward Memorial Park at Fair Road. The linear park would include walkways, benches, picnic tables and ornamental lamps, on stepped tiers that could handle unexpectedly high water levels on each side of the creek.

But the creek channel through the linear park and potential retail and residential development area would not be for boating. As Kelley confirmed when Councilman Phil Boyum asked, the expected typical water depth through these areas is two feet.


Phases ahead

Before starting work last fall, lead consultants predicted that the entire three-phase study would take 12 months to complete.

 “We come to say saying that we recommend that the city proceed with this effort and let’s go kind of full-ahead with Phase 2,” Kelley said Tuesday.

No votes were taken, but city officials did not object.

In Phase 2, the site feasibility study, consultants are expected to document the project’s environmental footprint – including fish and wildlife and water quality and quantity in the watershed – and potential effects on points of historical or archeological interest. Water-quality testing has already begun, Kelley said, and borings will be made for geological evaluation.

Only in Phase 3, the regulatory and permitting phase, will the city’s consultants address all of this to state and federal agencies for approval. Agencies likely to be invited to a pre-application meeting include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, consultants said in September.


No price tag

The consultants have offered no estimates of the cost of the reservoir construction and other aspects yet, but Kelley said they will provide estimates later this year. The city has $5.5 in direct state funding through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority for water control aspects of the project, and a $15.5 million, low-interest line of credit also available from GEFA.

The Creek on the Blue Mile Commission received the same presentation in a virtual meeting Wednesday. Keely Fennell, president of the Blue Mile Foundation Inc., saw it both times. She called it “exciting news that the creek is a feasible project” but acknowledged that the rest of the study remains to be completed.

“We hope to have the second phase finished in the September-October time frame, and then we hope by the end of the year for all of the stuff to be sent over to all of the regulating bodies so that maybe we’ll be able to get some results in 2021,” Fennell said.


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