The Stakeholder Advisory Committee (“SAC”) and the Technical Advisory Committee (“TAC”) were welcomed by Dr. Carol Couch, Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Dr. Couch thanked the committee members for their time and expertise and indicated that the convening of this group is an important benchmark in articulating for the Region some solutions and recommendations for coordinating water resources.
She described the purpose of this meeting as getting to know each
other and setting up some processes to develop a plan that will
guide water resources in the Flint River Basin.
Dr. Couch described the Flint River as a substantial resource that supports our life, our quality of life and our economy. She then asked members to introduce themselves and share what the Flint River means to them. Nearly every member of the SAC and TAC mentioned future generations – children and grandchildren – when they shared the importance of the Flint River. Many grew up either on the Flint River or on a tributary and want those same experiences for their children and grandchildren. Members also discussed the importance of the Flint River to farming in the Region, balancing economic development needs, flexibility in regulation, and recreation and tourism opportunities.
Background on the Flint River Basin Plan
Rob McDowell gave a presentation on the Flint River Basin Plan activities to date and a timeline for development of the final Flint River Basin Plan. His presentation in full is on the Flint River Basin Plan website, www.gadnr.org/frbp. The final Plan will be the culmination of 10 years of work and is framed by specific statutory requirements, including the requirement in OCGA 12- 5-31 that the Plan “must be based on detailed scientific analysis and promote efficient use of the water resource.”
Rob described the final Plan as a living document that will not be carved into stone but will be adaptable. He asked Committee members to think about EPD and what they will need to evaluate the backlog of permits in the spring of 2006. He also discussed the role of the TAC and reiterated the importance that the science utilized in this process be “fair and balanced”.
In terms of the timeline for this process, EPD would like 60 days of public comment prior to submitting the plan to the DRN Board and the Director in December 2005. Therefore, the Committees will need to complete their work by early October, 2005. Rob expressed his confidence that the SAC, with the scientific assistance of the TAC, will be able to develop an effective water management plan for this Region.
In response to a question about legislative oversight and the possibility of amending the final Plan, Director Couch discussed the current process and its relation to the broader Statewide Water Resource Plan. The development and timeline of the Flint River Basin Plan is directed by statute, but there is no General Assembly oversight in the Plan. The Director approves Plan and ensures that the DNR Board is satisfied with the Plan. This past May, the General Assembly approved and the Governor signed the Statewide Water Resource Plan. The Statewide Water Resource Plan does include an approval process by the General Assembly, and EPD would like to dovetail the Flint River Plan into the Statewide Water Resource Plan, due in 2007.
Dr. Couch then recognized Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., who praised the group for its upcoming work, describing it as “perhaps the most important work for our area in our lifetime” – work that will impact this generation and generations to come. He emphasized the “awesome responsibility and great weight on their shoulders” and the appreciation of Georgia’s 2nd congressional district for the long hours and consideration they will put into their work. He told the group that the outcome of this work will be widespread, and that Congress stands ready to partner with them and with the state to do anything they can to help protect the water resource – “our most important resource”.
Responsibilities of the Stakeholder Committee
Dr. Couch addressed the Stakeholder Advisory Committee by further delineating their role and responsibilities over the next year. A year from now, EPD and the group will be taking a draft Plan to Georgians. When this draft Plan is presented to the public, the measures of success are (1) it is a plan the SAC agrees on, and (2) it is a plan that moves the process forward. Dr. Couch stated that a process with respectful contention and controversy is expected and necessary to the process. While the SAC is an advisory committee and the Director has final responsibility for the contents of the plan, a plan that they SAC can’t support is not a good plan. SAC members may not reach consensus on all the issues, but she thinks they can reach consensus on most issues and continue to work on those that they don’t. She reiterated that the SAC and TAC represent “the best and brightest leadership”, and “a plan that won’t hunt is not a successful plan”.
Three members of the TAC gave presentations to the group on issues crucial to their understanding of the Flint River Basin. All presentations are posted in full on the website – www.gadnr.org/frbp.
Questions Which Must be Answered for the Flint River Basin Plan to be a Success
The SAC then randomly broke into three small groups to discuss what questions must be answered for the Flint River Basin Plan to be a success. The groups presented their ideas (listed below) and had brief discussion with the larger group about those ideas.
Discussion of Group Ideas
One of the groups discussed the possibility of having two categories of permits, with some being grandfathered, but all determined by year instead of by worst case scenario. They also stressed the importance of predictability, so that banks would be more confident in providing financing. They referenced certain users that “must be protected”, such as significant employers in the communities and the communities themselves as water users. They talked about the importance of a mechanism that can take the shock of the bad years while protecting the resource.
Another group wanted to know about north Florida’s use of shared resources, and the rights of current permit holders if land is sold. They stressed that any models incorporated into the Plan need to be “user-friendly.”
One of the groups asked about the “givens” surrounding this Plan. The group did not want to spend a lot of time and effort debating things that they could not change, and they wanted to know the framework within which they will be conducting their work – the “givens”. The current statute, the way we conduct permitting, and how we make permitting decisions are the first set of givens, according to Dr. Couch. The second set of givens are those that the SAC creates. The SAC will be creating a process to get to the given – how to best manage water resources. She expects vigorous conversations about how to draft water permitting to get to where we need to be. The current permitting is not flexible enough, and the group may decide that they want to make recommendations to the General Assembly about the parameters, in addition to assisting in developing the Plan.
Procedural Issues Decided by the SAC
A summary of all SAC meetings will be sent to SAC members for review.
Following approval, they will be posted on the Flint River Basin
Plan’s website, www.gadnr.org/frbp.
TAC meeting minutes will be e-mailed to all stakeholders. While
all members of the SAC are welcome at all TAC meetings, at least
one member will attend or listen via conference call to all TAC
meetings. At least one, and likely more, TAC member will attend
each SAC meeting.
The SAC requested that the TAC compile the 10 most critical things to know in the basin. The website and e-mail for the project are as follows:
Finally, the SAC discussed their acceptance of public comments and input during their working meetings. Given the amount of work they have to do in a short amount of time, they expressed a desire to keep public comments brief. They agreed to have laptop computers available during all SAC meetings to take public comment, and they agreed to leave 10-15 minutes at the end of each meeting for brief public comment. They also discussed the possibility of using comment/question cards but did not reach resolution on that issue.
The SAC will meet on a monthly basis with the exception of December 2004, when they will not meet. The next scheduled meeting is Friday, November 19, from 8am-12noon. The location will be announced shortly, and all SAC members were asked to bring their 2005 schedules to the November 19 meeting so that all future meeting dates could be established at that time. Meetings will rotate at sites along/near the Flint River, and all meeting dates, times and locations will also be posted on the Flint River Basin Plan website, www.gadnr.org/frbp.
**Any questions about or corrections to these meeting notes should be directed to Courtney Tobin (706) 542-7149 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dennis Epps (706) 542-6244 (email@example.com), meeting facilitators, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia.