The northern long-eared bat, whose habitat extends into Hall County, has contributed to the latest delay of a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Glades Reservoir.
The draft EIS was scheduled for release next month, with a 45-day public comment period to follow.
But that timeline has now been pushed back to July, according to Billy Birdwell, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determines whether the bat should be placed on the endangered species list.
That decision is scheduled for early April.
If the bat is found to be endangered in the region, the draft EIS will have to account for this change.
A final EIS had been scheduled for release in the fall, with a permitting decision from the Corps of Engineers coming in December.
But this timeline is now unclear as well.
“Many factors determine when a final EIS is released,” Birdwell said. “Among these issues is satisfactorily addressing the comments received during the public review of the draft EIS. Therefore, we can’t predict when a final EIS can be released. I will say that it is not at all unusual for dates to change.”
Previous delays — most recently last summer — have cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, with special purpose local option sales tax monies, or SPLOST VI, helping to cover these costs.
The county has spent more than $15 million to date on Glades, including land acquisition costs.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs, whose district in North Hall includes the Glades Reservoir property, said the bulk of the money needed for Glades already has been spent.
But Gibbs did recognize the consequences continued delays could have on the county.
“They should deal with (the environmental statement) today,” he said. “It’s definitely an impact.”
County Administrator Randy Knighton said the delay is out of local government’s control.
Supporters of the proposed 850-acre Glades Reservoir in the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin say it will add about 40 million gallons per day to the water supply of Northeast Georgia at an estimated $130 million cost to Hall County.
Opponents counter that it is an “amenity lake” with steep economic and environmental costs, and little tangible benefit.