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Reservoir leaps one more hurdle to permitting
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After several years of planning and development, Etowah Water and Sewer Authority is nearing completion on the first phase of its Russell Creek Reservoir.

"The reservoir is going very well. We have completed all work necessary, in terms of studies and analysis, to obtain the 404 and the 401 permits," said Brooke Anderson, the authority's general manager. "It's my understanding that the Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward with the 404 permit and that the state is moving forward with our 401 permit."

The 137-acre pumped-storage reservoir would be filled with water from the Etowah River.

The reservoir has a projected yield of 11.5 million gallons per day and will provide 1.37 billion gallons of water storage in the Coosa River Basin.

The authority has been working since 2006 to develop the reservoir, which could serve a projected population of 125,000 past 2050, off of Etowah River Road.

"Our permit to the corps was submitted in October of last year," Anderson said last week. "The corps should complete that work within a week."

Anderson said that the authority is optimistic that they will receive a draft of each permit by June.

"Both the corps and the EPD have been tremendous to deal with," he said. "They are both working hard to move our project forward and we're grateful for that."

The total cost of the reservoir project is estimated to be nearly $34.8 million.

The authority secured a loan from the state in September to help with that cost.

"We had requested $25.5 million from the Governor's Water Supply Program and we received $10 million of that, which we are still extremely proud about," Anderson said.

The loan will help finance costs associated with the Russell Creek Reservoir project, which involves expanding the storage of an existing flood control dam on the creek.

"We've had a meeting with GIFA about the remaining $15.5 million and that looks promising," Anderson said. "We feel confident at this point that the funding for the design and construction is there for us to move forward with."

However, the authority has had one surprise show up at the end phases of the permitting.

"We are having a bit of a bat issue, but we do not believe it will hinder the project, though it may be something we have to look at and deal with," Anderson said. "We were informed about three weeks ago by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service that a species of bats could possibly use our region as a habitat."

On April 1, U.S. Fish and Wildlife will list the northern long eared bat as either threatened or endangered.

"Dawson County is in the range of where these bats migrate to," Anderson said. "The bats hibernate in caves in Kentucky and Tennessee over the winter. They migrate here in May or August and have their pups in dead pine trees. Then they fly back in the fall to hibernate."

According to Anderson, should the study find that these bats do nest in Dawson County, the authority would have to delay the timber-clearing phase until winter when the bats are hibernating.

"Worst case scenario, we would have to clear these trees during the winter, but the project would still move forward," he said. "We would basically stage our construction effort to bid the project in the late summer to coincide with the winter months when the contract was awarded."

Anderson said that, all things continuing along as they have been, the project should begin construction in two and a half years with two years of construction expected.

It would take another six months to fill up the reservoir slowly, according to state regulations.

"If all things go according to plan, we are looking at about five and a half years to go from now to a full, finished reservoir," he said. "This schedule is a doable schedule based on everything we know today and even dealing with the bat concern."