The Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Law Center is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reopen public comment on Hall County’s Glades Reservoir permit application.
Gilbert B. Rogers, senior attorney, submitted the six-page written request Friday to the corps’ Savannah district and on behalf of American Rivers, Georgia River Network, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Flint Riverkeeper.
The letter says 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 groups say 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.
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.
That issued stemmed from a July 2009 ruling in which 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 says in the letter.
And Council on Environmental Quality regulations “require revision of scoping determinations when substantial changes or significant new circumstances arise concerning a proposed action,” he said.
The new alternative involves releasing water from Glades into Lake Lanier, up to an annual average of 72.5 million gallons per day.
“The new plan will require that Hall County apply for and receive a storage contract from the corps for greater storage volume in Lake Lanier,” Rogers writes.
Among other things, one of the effects of the new alternative is Gainesville’s potential withdrawal of 72.5 million gallons per day through existing intake locations on Lake Lanier.
“Rescoping and allowing for additional public comments should not unduly delay the (permit) process,” Rogers said.
“Hall County will need time to further develop its new preferred alternative and apply for a storage contract for Lake Lanier, and the corps has yet to issue the initial scoping report or draft (environmental statement).”
Tom Oliver, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, said he wasn’t sure what further scoping would accomplish.
“At one time, there wasn’t even a scoping required,” he said. “Just to do scoping for the sake of scoping is not necessarily the answer. The answer is how are you going to get your water supply in the future.”
He said he would also like to see environmental groups present suggestions on how to quench metro Atlanta’s thirst for water.
“Atlanta has one of the smallest water basins in the country,” Oliver said. “Anytime you’re going for a solution for the future, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t do that.’ So many times, it’s hard for them to share with you what they would do.”
Billy E. Birdwell, a spokesman at the corps’ Savannah District, said the corps hasn’t “officially received the letter, (so) we have not had an opportunity to read or consider it. We will need time to consider the request.”
He added: “However ... as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process, the public will have other opportunities to provide comments.”
Public input includes a time “following release of a draft EIS and a period following the release of the final EIS,” Birdwell said.