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Corps won't reopen public comment on Glades
Environmental groups made request after Ga. got upper hand in water wars
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has denied a request by the Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Law Center to reopen public comment on Hall County’s Glades Reservoir permit application.

“Reopening scoping of the Environmental Impact Statement at this point in the process would not be appropriate and it would unnecessarily prolong the ... process,” according to a three-page letter from the corps obtained Tuesday by The Times.

Gilbert B. Rogers, senior attorney at the law center, submitted the six-page written request Sept. 21 to the corps’ Savannah district on behalf of American Rivers, Georgia River Network, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Flint
Riverkeeper.

Rogers’ letter said scoping, the formal process used by the corps in seeking public comment and which usually includes hearings, should be reopened on two grounds: the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals in the tri-state water wars case and Hall’s adoption of a “new preferred alternative.”

The environmental groups said they believe that rescoping is required by Council on Environmental Quality regulations and that “allowing for additional public comment ... will contribute to more effective vetting of alternatives, impacts and actions” concerning the project’s Environmental Impact Statement.

Kelly C. Finch, chief of the regulatory division at the corps’ Savannah District, responded to the request in a letter dated Thursday.

“It is the position of the Savannah District that neither the National Environmental Policy Act, Council on Environmental Quality regulations nor (corps) regulations require reopening the scoping period,” Finch wrote.

Initial scoping took place on the project Feb. 17 through April 17.

On June 25, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in a longstanding water-sharing dispute between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Alabama and Florida appeared to get an upper hand in July 2009, when U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson found that water withdrawal was never a congressionally authorized use of Lake Lanier.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta later overturned Magnuson’s decision, finding that Atlanta has a legal claim to the water. Alabama, Florida and communities in South Georgia had argued that Atlanta uses too much water, harming wildlife, people and industries downstream.

“Based on Lake Lanier’s availability for water supply, the Hall County Board of Commissioners changed its preferred alternative to a new plan that does not rely on the use of Cedar Creek Reservoir but instead relies on storage in and withdrawal from Lake Lanier,” Rogers argued in the letter.

The new alternative involves releasing water from Glades into Lake Lanier, up to an annual average of 72.5 million gallons per day.

“The applicant’s need and purpose for the revised project is the same as the original project — to secure a reliable source of raw water to meet the projected 2060 Hall County deficit of 72.5 million gallons per day,” Finch’s letter stated.

Also, he said, “The scope for physical construction required for the project has been reduced.”

Finch also noted that the law center and “other interested parties will have ample opportunity to provide comments on the applicant’s new preferred projects, as well as all other alternatives to be considered, in forthcoming phases of the ... process.”

Rogers said he is “disappointed with this determination (by the corps) given the amount of changes that have occurred in this project’s history.

“We think the public should have maximum opportunities to weigh in on the project and its impact and alternatives.”

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