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Residents not happy about Bear Creek Reservoir rules

POSTED: June 5, 2009 12:15 a.m.

As residents start making plans for summer vacations and trips to the lake, the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department is working with the county and others to lay down some official ground rules for using the Bear Creek Reservoir.

But several residents who live on or near the lake sounded off at Monday’s Jackson County Commission meeting concerning those rules and asked the board to postpone voting on them.

The reservoir, off Ga. 330 near Bogart, is regulated by the four member counties of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority — Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Jackson, and Oconee counties — with Jackson County having the responsibility of maintaining it. It’s used primarily for drinking water use by the member counties. Many people also go fishing on the property.

Currently, the parks and recreation department doesn’t patrol the area, which is open Friday-Sunday from May to September and Friday-Saturday from October to April, according to Ricky Sanders, director of the county’s parks and recreation department.

"We don’t patrol the reservoir," Sanders said. "It’s up to the game warden and the water and treatment plant employees."

As such, parks and recreation is looking to employ someone to monitor activities on the reservoir and needs the county commission to approve an ordinance outlining rules and regulations for reservoir use to truly have enforcement capabilities.

"These are basically the rules they (the water authority) wanted. They’ve already approved them — we (Jackson County) just have to adopt them to make them legally binding," Sanders said.

"It’s not anything that’s out of the question; it’s just putting (the rules) in a more formal form. Our folks have an opportunity to enforce the rules and have order."

The ordinance up for approval allows residents to have access to the reservoir from 7 a.m. to sundown Friday-Sunday from March 1 to the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year.

It details everything from what kinds of activities are permitted on the property to the kinds of boats allowed on the water. Those who violate the terms of the ordinance could see fines up to $1,000 and/or up to 60 days in jail, the document notes.

"Basically, we’ll be putting out a list of rules of what you can and can’t do, and we want folks to come and enjoy the lake," Sanders said.

But some Jackson County residents see the ordinance as too strict in terms of what people can and can’t do on the property.

"The regulations seem to be restrictive, and the only people who can use boats are those who are fishing," said Babbs McDonald, a South Jackson resident. "I can understand regulating the type of boat, but I can’t understand restricting what happens in the boat."

Following McDonald’s comments on the ordinance, Chairman Hunter Bicknell explained that residents will need to bring their concerns to the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, the group that owns the reservoir and the surrounding land.

"We’re certainly welcoming everyone to come and express their concerns about the Bear Creek Reservoir and its use. But keep in mind that its owned by the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority and any action taken by this body (the Jackson County Commission) is approved by that body (the water authority) in advance of us taking that action," Bicknell said.

"We can’t legislate action that doesn’t conform to what they agree to. I encourage anyone to contact the regional development authority in Athens and get on the agenda for the next meeting (of the water authority)."

Six other residents, all of whom live in the subdivision adjoining the reservoir, spoke after Bicknell about the ordinance. They’re concerned that their property taxes are drastically increasing and access to the reservoir is being limited.

"We’re going to take care of the lake and if you allow us, you’ll have extra eyes and ears to see potential problems," said Tom Claiborne, one of the residents on the reservoir. "I am proposing Section 1-2, limiting access to the lake, be amended to allow property owners to have access to the lake all the time."

Bicknell also said many of the rules come from the Department of Homeland Security and other regulatory agencies, and the water authority must incorporate those rules into the ordinance.

Commissioner Tom Crow suggested and the board unanimously agreed to postpone voting on the ordinance until after residents have had the chance to address the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority at its next meeting, scheduled for July 22.



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