Oconee, GA to expand sewerage capacity

Move could cover residential growth

   WATKINSVILLE -- A move by Oconee County to significantly expand its sewage treatment capacity for commercial growth could lead to extending the service for residential use -- something the county has never allowed in its unincorporated areas.
   The longstanding policy of restricting sewerage from residential use is meant to leave enough treatment capacity to accommodate businesses the county hopes can offset the property tax burden on homeowners by expanding the tax base.
   But there may be enough reserve capacity to serve residents after the county nearly quadruples how much sewage its plants can treat over the next several years.
   ''I think at some point in time, our county will have residential sewer,'' said Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis, giving a ballpark figure of about 10 years before that happens.
   The Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee -- which makes non-binding recommendations to the commission on growth issues -- will begin discussing residential sewerage at a meeting next month.
   Committee Chairman Tom Little expects that issue to be controversial.
   ''With residential sewer you can increase (lot) density,'' Little said. ''I think that will be a big issue.''   
Photo: news
 John Hatcher shows a new polymer filter Wednesday at Oconee County's Calls Creek facility. The filter is used by only one other wastewater treatment plant in the country.
Dot Paul/Staff

But for the present, county officials hope to simply have the sewerage infrastructure in place to continue business growth in the county's rapidly developing northern half.
   ''Businesses ask for sewer and basically just want to see that they have access to it,'' said county Administrative Officer Jon Walker. ''By having it in place we answer their questions right off the bat.''
   Currently, Oconee County has about a 400,000-gallon-per-day treatment capacity at its Calls Creek facility, the county's only active treatment plant. Within the next 30 days, overall treatment capacity will increase by 50 percent when a land application system treatment plant opens on Rocky Branch Road. It initially will be able to treat 200,000 gallons of raw sewage per day.
   Within the next several years, county officials plan to expand both plants to be able to treat about 1.4 million gallons of sewage a day.
   Drawing in large businesses has been an ongoing effort since the Epps Bridge Parkway first began developing as a commercial district in the mid-1990s.
   Oconee officials believe sewerage expansion will allow that commercial growth to extend outward from Epps Bridge Parkway, along Georgia Highway 316 toward Atlanta and along U.S. Highway 78. It will also allow more business growth in slower-growing areas like U.S. Highway 441 and Butler's Crossing.
   ''The whole idea is you want to keep capacity available for commercial development to support your tax base,'' said Gary Dodd, utility director. ''You have to have an equal balance of residential and commercial for counties to be self-supporting.''