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Nickels & Dimes… and Dams

March 4, 2011

Two recent news stories just happen to highlight the cost side of a couple of proposed reservoir projects. Neither paints a complete picture of how local governments handle the immense costs of developing reservoirs, but both of these stories fall easily into the category of “things that make you go ‘Hmm.’”

The Gainesville Times reported last Saturday that “the Hall County Board of Commissioners is hoping to cut costs on the Glades Reservoir project by finding a better price for engineering services.” This in a split vote after Glades consultant Tommy Craig “told commissioners he and his colleagues were willing to lower their fees by $5,000 a month.”

Makes you wonder what the total monthly fees are, doesn’t it? Two things are important to remember here: One, consultants on these projects are paid via public funds, probably either through taxes or water rates or some combination of both. Two, they’re usually paid consistently no matter the status of the project on the ground. So it’s not hard to imagine those costs piling up – and also not hard to imagine why at least some local elected officials would eventually start to get a little more protective of their constituents’ dollars.

The Athens Banner-Herald reported Monday on a tangential piece of the Hard Labor Creek project saga. This week’s story was simply about a tussle between reservoir planners and state regulators over some of the engineering – a tussle that has some dollar value tied to it. It’s worth asking, of course, if that amount of money would be such an issue if the project weren’t already in such bad shape financially. That’s the real story of Hard Labor Creek, after all: the project is frozen but not built, is already costing local ratepayers, and almost surely wasn’t even needed in the first place. Thus it appears that local officials may be trying to do damage control on the magnitude of the costs that they’ve put their constituents on the line for.

In each of these cases, the consultants appear to be betting the success of the public financing on the prospect of selling water to other communities across county lines, and maybe across ridgelines too. That’s not only a dicey bet for the local ratepayers and taxpayers holding the bag for each project, it’s also the absolute opposite of effective statewide or regional water planning.

Update: The Atlanta Business Chronicle has reported (sorry, can’t find the link just now) that the state Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill that would facilitate public-private partnerships to build reservoirs and other water infrastructure projects. See our last post for background on this issue. Not many details about the legislation are in hand here right now, but maybe more will emerge as the bill moves to the House.

-Ben Emanuel

2 Comments leave one →
  1. garivernetwork permalink*
    March 7, 2011 3:57 pm

    Thanks, Imran. Don’t know why I couldn’t get to it on Fri.


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