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Prince points to Tobar for permit compliance issues

Attorney Laura Benz met with Grady County commissioners Tuesday to update the full board on compliance issues regarding the county’s federal 404 permit, which authorized the construction of Tired Creek Lake.
Ms. Benz outlined encroachments on the mitigation easement known as the Kraft property as well as unauthorized modifications to the water quality and water quantity plan as issues that must be addressed in order for the county to be successful with its mitigation plan and to stay in compliance with its permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“(Former Grady County administrator) Carlos (Tobar) wanted to do this and do that and it didn’t get done,” Commission Chairman Ray Prince said Tuesday night in summarizing some of the permit compliance issues.
Prince continues to say that property owners John Randall Holton and Clayton L. Norton, whose property the county easement runs through, will reimburse the county for legal fees and repairs required to insure the county is successful in obtaining the mitigation credits from the Kraft site.
According to Benz, there were several areas of encroachment on the county’s easement by the property owners including the disturbance of 4.47 acres where it is predicted if left undisturbed natural vegetation will grow back. The consulting attorney said there is another 4.5 acres of unapproved access that was created that does not meet criteria and it is suggested that planting of native vegetation will be required. There is a 2.5 acre section where row crops were planted and Ms. Benz said that would have to be removed and replaced with natural vegetation.
“It’s a blessing this was found at this point rather than in year seven,” Ms. Benz said. She said as part of her ongoing work she would coordinate with the Corps to address these and other issues to insure compliance with the permit and meet the success criteria of the county’s mitigation plan.
As year three of the county’s monitoring begins, Benz says the year one reporting has not been finalized. She said that the county and its consultants have been “stuck in draft comment” back and forth with the Corps.
Benz told commissioners that in 2016 when the board terminated her services she produced a memo outlining items that needed to be completed and addressed going forward. According to the attorney, the county staff failed to follow through on some of the items.
County officials contacted Benz in March to ask for her assistance in addressing the county’s permit compliance issues.
She also briefed the board Tuesday night that the water quality and water quantity report was due to the Corps early next month and that attorneys for Leon County, Fla., have already been inquiring about the report and its contents.
Gary Huffman of Krebs Engineering was also present Tuesday night to brief the board. He told commissioners that the water monitoring plan had been modified, but was never approved by the Corps.
“The changes were not excessive, but used different parameters some of which haven’t been monitored,” Huffman said.
Benz said if the board preferred to go back to the Corps and seek authorization to amend the plan rather than follow the approved plan that was an option.
“I think we better stick with the approved plan,” Chairman Prince said. Benz concurred and said with the heightened interest by Grady County’s southern neighbors the least modifications possible were desirable.
Commissioner June Knight questioned if the permit compliance issues the county is having to address was due in part to a failure of the Grady County Lake Authority.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Benz said. “Hopefully we can get back on track,” Benz added.
The board authorized payment of $7,904 to Ms. Benz for legal services from May 1 through June 5.
The consulting attorney also submitted a proposal for Tired Creek legal and consulting services. Under the agreement, Benz is proposing to coordinate and discuss overall permit compliance; prepare an audit of mitigation documentation and year one mitigation monitoring report; attend meetings with the Corps to discuss success criteria and assess site conditions for satisfaction of criteria; coordinate with Corps officials concerning document and/or mitigation site deficiencies and propose remedial measures; and other matters related to permit compliance.
Benz is offering the county a discounted hourly rate of $280 per hour, discounted from her standard rate of $325 per hour.
“Some of this we will recover,” Chairman Prince said Tuesday night.
“You hope,” Commissioner Knight responded.
The county commission chairman went on to say he had confidence in county commission attorney Jennifer Herzog in recovering county expenses for legal fees and damages.
Failure to earn full credit for creating the specified wetlands in the county’s mitigation plan and required by the federal 404 permit issued authorizing the construction of Tired Creek Lake could cost the county millions of dollars in additional expense.
In 2016, due to the failure of another county consultant to adhere to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved mitigation plan, the county had to spend $5.8 million to obtain mitigation credits in order to comply with the requirements of its 404 permit.
In other action Tuesday, the board authorized payment of $6,621.48 to Resource & Land Consultants of Savannah who performed work as expert witnesses in the collection action against contractors involved in the lake mitigation plan.
Chairman Prince said this is another expense the county will recoup if the county is successful in its collection action.

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