After the agreements are signed, the next step in the Creek on the Blue Mile project will be environmental and engineering studies, officials say. The city will then need to acquire property for the perhaps 25-acre reservoir, which could be larger or smaller.
As recently reported, Statesboro City Council approved documents Feb. 19 making the city responsible for repaying a line of credit for up to $15.5 million from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. With 30 years for repayment at an annual interest rate of 2.25 percent, the state loan would finance changes to the creek or drainage canal itself, downstream from the reservoir. That interest rate is lower than banks now pay to borrow money from the Federal Reserve, a fraction of the rates available to ordinary consumers.
Meanwhile, a $5.5 million “state direct investment,” in effect a grant, will come to the city to create the reservoir itself, with an impoundment dam on Little Lott’s Creek, officials have said. Interviewed immediately after the Feb. 19 meeting, Mayor Jonathan McCollar said that flood-control aspects of the project are real considerations, as are recreational uses of the creek and reservoir, which he hailed as an economic development lure for Statesboro and the surrounding region.
“All of the things in the documents are very real considerations, but all of these things are what’s going to be determined by the engineers,” McCollar said. “The engineers are going to tell us what directions we need to go in and things of that nature.”
A series of unanimous council votes that night clarified that the city will repay the loan and removed the Development Authority of Bulloch County, originally identified as the recipient, from further responsibility. This put the city “moving in the right direction” to get a request for qualifications, or RFQ, out to engineering firms, McCollar said. An RFQ is like a request for proposals, but emphasizes the qualifications of bidders seeking a professional services contract.
“Staff is working on the RFQ that will go out, hopefully in the next month for sure,” City Manager Randy Wetmore said Wednesday. “And once we get somebody on board, then the studies will begin.”
That “somebody” doesn’t mean an individual. The request will be for an engineering firm or possibly a team of firms handling different aspects of the work under contract to the city, Wetmore said.
Some paperwork for the grant remains to be done. All of the funding documents will probably be completed around mid-March, he indicated.
“Everything is in line to be done,” Wetmore said. “Now it’s just a matter of going through the formalities of getting everything signed.”
Exact size unknown
An estimate that the reservoir will cover about 25 acres has been repeated since the project concept was unveiled in December. But in fact, the acreage needed remains uncertain.
“We don’t know what size the reservoir is actually going to be until we have the studies done,” Wetmore said. “So those are numbers that everybody’s been throwing around that might be accurate, that may not, but the studies will help us get to the specific size that we need and the amount of property that we’re going to need to acquire for the project.”
A portion of the state direct investment could be used to buy land for the reservoir, Wetmore said last week. So far, the city has not acquired any property for the project.
The Blue Mile Foundation Inc. has used some of Statesboro’s $1 million prize from the 2017 America’s Best Communities contest and worked with the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority to acquire some land for the creek project, Blue Mile Foundation President Keely Fennell said in an interview last week. But this property is between South Main Street and Fair Road, toward the eastern end of the project area, while the reservoir would be west of South College Street.
“I do agree it’s a concept because the engineers have not been hired to coordinate all that, but we’ve done feasibility studies to see if it works, and roughly you’re talking about a 25-acre reservoir, which would be located on South College,” Fennell said last week.
Other funds required
Also unknown is the total cost of the project. The reported $21 million total is the maximum announced state funding, but that money can be used only for the reservoir and creek improvements that hold and channel water, Wetmore and Fennell said in separate interviews. Both also noted that the city does not have to borrow the full $15.5 million in the line of credit if the work can be done for less.
But fundraising will be needed for suggested amenities such as a “veterans park” and amphitheater, Fennell said.
“As exciting as the project is, the next 12 to 24 months are going to be a lot of legal, engineering and government work that has to be done prior to any development, because we want to make sure we do it right,” she said.
Wetmore agreed with that projection and said the engineering work will probably take about a year.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.