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Engineers make wish list of Flat Creek projects
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GAINESVILLE — Environmental engineers hired by the Gainesville and Hall County governments have outlined six priority projects that could improve the ecological integrity of the Flat Creek watershed.

After walking nearly all 25 miles of Flat Creek’s reach and conducting a yearlong study, engineers from the firm CH2M Hill told a public meeting Tuesday that a large number of restoration projects could improve the quality of the creek.

But the probability of implementing all of those projects is zero, said Betsy Massie, a project manager with CH2M Hill.

"Obviously, it’s not feasible to implement 39 stream (restoration) projects and 24 BMP (best management practice) retrofits in a watershed," said CH2M Hill’s assistant project manager Chrissy Thom. "We needed to start identifying projects that are going to provide the greatest benefit in a cost-efficient manner."

To narrow down the project list in order for the city and county governments to get the most "bang for their bucks" the engineers met with Gainesville and Hall County officials as well as officials from the Army Corps of Engineers to determine which projects were a priority.

Projects were ranked by their cost-effectiveness and their feasibility (how easy the land would be to access for the completion of the restoration work), and the group came up with a "shopping list" of six project alternatives — a combination of projects in a certain area — that would have the greatest impact.

Most of the projects are in the upper reaches of Flat Creek: near Airport Parkway, Atlanta Highway and Dorsey Street, Pine Street, Banks Street, Bradford Street Extension and Hilton Drive. Much of the area at the headwaters of Flat Creek was developed before Georgia had laws governing storm water runoff.

Those areas need work that would keep storm water runoff from creating the erosion and pollution problems that the runoff currently poses, and work needs to be done to correct some of the erosion the runoff has already caused.

That restoration work can begin after the study, called a Watershed Improvement Plan and an Ecosystem Restoration Report, is completed and approved by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The projects will be presented to elected officials for approval starting with a number of projects, dubbed "Project Alternative J," that would restore the stream, stabilize its banks and add plants to the land immediately adjacent to Flat Creek, said Horace Gee, environmental services administrator for Gainesville.

The current estimated cost of "Project Alternative J" is $370,000.

Funding has not yet been allocated for these projects, but the completion of the study will make funding from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency a future possibility.

About 20 people gathered in the Gainesville Civic Center’s Sidney Lanier room to hear the findings of the report Tuesday evening.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, one man asked how the city and county governments would ensure the maintenance of the projects once progress was made.

"Twenty blocks away from this, a builder may decide he wants to do something and he’s going to be able to do it, and that’s going to impact this two or three years from now. After you’ve finished you might be right back where you started," the man said.

Massie said such an issue was an enforcement issue.

Another man, Victor Dube, asked how the project would help with litter in Flat Creek. Dube regularly holds clean ups on the creek, but every time it rains, he said the creek just fills back up with trash.

Massie said that while the project does not specifically target litter, the restoration of storm water controls and detention ponds may keep as much litter from flowing into the creek by controlling "hydrological pulses," or increased water flows due to heavy rainfall.

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