Fayette talks about using $800K in stormwater fees for new park

The “Plan B” for funding stormwater repairs in unincorporated Fayette County will get a kick-start with $2 million loaned from the general fund to address projects that cause flooding which endangers life or property.

The money, approved for spending by the Fayette County Commission on Jan. 23, will be paid back from future bond financing. That bond will be paid back with revenues from the county’s stormwater utility, which began charging fees in 2012.

The alternate funding plan is necessary because voters in November turned down $16.8 million in sales tax funding that would have funded the county’s entire stormwater project list.

While the county commission is looking to significantly pare down the project list to match the reduced funding, it has come under fire for one of the proposed projects: $1.4 million to repair the dam on the privately-owned Margaret Phillips Lake. County officials contend the lake’s dam is in the right-of-way of Longview Road and the state’s Safe Dams program requires the county to make the repairs.

One of the big justifications for the project is contingent on the lake being deeded to the county with land to use as a future passive park much like the water system’s reservoir lakes, officials said.

But local resident Dennis Chase contends that instead of spending $1.4 million on repairing the dam, the county could spend about $600,000 just to breach the dam, replace it with a culvert or a small bridge for the road, and let the lake turn into wetlands. That’s a potential savings of about $800,000, Chase said, especially when it’s not known if the public would support the additional spending for repairs on top of what it would cost to improve the parcel to make it a passive park.

“I don’t think you’ve given this enough consideration,” Chase said.

Commission Chairman Steve Brown said Margaret Phillips Lake deserves consideration for preserving the county’s rural character as a place that families in the future could go on picnics.

“That choice has yet to be made but if the property owner doesn’t agree with what we require to make a deal we feel is the best action for our county, we’re going to breach the dam,” Brown said.

Commissioner Allen McCarty said a potential future park on the site could be built 10 or 15 years from now, not necessarily on a short time frame. Commissioner Randy Ognio suggested residents go view the lake, which is not just beautiful but large as well.

“When you breach it, it’s going to be a large hole,” Ognio said. “… Making a park out of it is an option. If it doesn’t come to be, we’ll just breach it.”

Commissioner Chuck Oddo said he appreciated Chase’s comments, noting that Chase has a reputation of going to government meetings to hold local officials accountable. Oddo said he would not ignore Chase’s opinion.

In addition to the Longview Dam project, there are two other dam projects up for potential funding: the Emerald Lake Dam in the Emerald Lake subdivision with a cost estimate of $911,000 and the Kozisek Dam on Neely Road at $250,000. The state’s Safe Dams program also requires the county to conduct those repairs, officials said.

Some five other projects are also considered a top priority for the county, totaling $337,000 in estimated costs. Those projects include work on Brittany Way, Covered Bridge Trail, Lawson Lane, Merrydale Drive and Oak Street.

Chase said the commission needed to do more background work on the stormwater problems instead of focusing on just finding new money for funding.

Commissioner David Barlow said he particularly wanted to speed up the repairs for Brittany Way after seeing the devastating photos of how flooding backing up from an undersized stormwater pipe affects the home of resident Ozzie Sanchez, who has implored the commission for help.

Knowing that $2 million isn’t enough, the commission also voted last week to petition the legislature to change the rules for the county’s Public Facilities Authority to allow it to finance stormwater projects. The authority has been used to finance public buildings, most recently the new county justice center and jail expansion.

The benefit of using the authority for financing is that it can be done quicker than the traditional bond financing process, and the county can get a better interest rate, County Administrator Steve Rapson has said.