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County opposes habitat proposal

Plan would protect fish but limit development

POSTED: August 26, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Dawson County does not plan to join about a dozen other local governments in a habitat conservation plan for the Etowah River basin.


Citing what it says is a lack of documented findings, the Dawson County commission voted 3-1 on Thursday to notify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it will oppose the Etowah Habitat Conservation Plan.


The plan calls for strict measures to limit stormwater runoff from building and redevelopment projects. The runoff, fish and wildlife officials say, threatens endangered species, including three in Dawson County.


“By protecting these fish, we are helping protect water quality and drinking water,” said Robin Goodloe, lead fish and wildlife biologist on the conservation plan.


The proposal would affect about 85 percent of the county.


It is not clear when or how the federal government may respond to the commission’s letter.


District 3 Commissioner Mike Connor, who said he was neither for or against the federal proposal, voted against sending the letter of opposition.


“I want to make sure we, as a board, know what we are doing,” Connor said. “The letter strikes me as almost accusing them of not being able to substantiate what they are saying, with statements we can’t substantiate.”


In the letter, commissioners note that there have been no environmental impact studies on the matter. They also cite a lack of public input and projected costs to landowners.


The letter also is critical of unproven scientific studies on aquatic species, specifically Darters, which are small fish between 1.6 and 3 inches long, in the basin.


Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville agrees that the plan is “full of holes.”


He also is adamant that the plan is really about the federal government wanting more control over how states and counties handle land-use plans and zoning.


“This is not about the fish,” Pearson said. “There is no environmental impact studies, which would be required if we were doing things on our own property.”


Fish and wildlife officials say the greatest threat to the survival of the darters in the Etowah basin is non-point source pollution washing into streams and rivers. 


Local builders said the plan, if adopted, would halt nearly all development in Dawson County. 


Rory Cunningham, president of the Dawson County Homebuilders Association, said the provision of alleviating stormwater to forest standards is virtually impossible.


“No one would be able to build here,” he said.


Thirteen local governments have signed on to the plan and are in the process of adopting accompanying ordinances.


According to the commission’s letter, Dawson County continues to improve stormwater management and water quality guidelines imposed by the state.


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