Rum Creek Project begins to preserve and reshape 62 wetland acres

The Henry County Water & Sewerage Authority has again taken up the challenge of restoring and reshaping 62 acres of wetlands along Rum Creek in Georgia.

McDonough, Ga., Feb. 11, 2003 -- When Dr. Rick Whiteside explained the wetlands mitigation and restoration project at Mackey Creek to new members of the Henry County Water & Sewerage Authority (HCWSA) board at their January meeting, he conveyed the construction challenge candidly.

"To restore the site with conventional construction equipment would have done more harm than good," he said. "So we had to come up with another way ."

While conventional construction techniques might have been more disruptive than productive, utilizing dynamite to blast areas of the mitigation site, oddly enough, did the trick. Now the Authority is at it again, attempting to restore and reshape 62 acres of wetlands along Rum Creek, though dynamite won't be necessary this time.

The Rum Creek restoration project follows up on the success of the Authority's Mackey Creek wetlands mitigation, which even featured a rare sighting of endangered wood storks who called the HCWSA property home for a few months last summer .

Approximately five years ago, the HCWSA set out to preserve and restore 200 acres along Mackey Creek as mitigation for constructing the Upper Towaliga Reservoir back in 1998.
Similarly, the Rum Creek project will provide wetlands mitigation for current HCWSA master plan projects. The U .S. Army Corps of Engineers requires public utilities, or other parties for that matter, to restore or replace wetlands impacted by capital improvements. As a result, the HCWSA has in effect become one of the largest preservers of green space in Henry County, since mitigation sites remain untouched by development and ideal for wildlife habitat.

"We've been very active in wetlands mitigation, especially over the past decade, acquiring land to preserve and restore," says Lindy Farmer, general manager of the HCWSA. "Wetlands mitigation is intended to replace acreage that might be impacted by our expanding facilities, most often at a ratio where many more acres are preserved than have been impacted."

In fact, the wetlands mitigation plan outlined by Dr. Whiteside for the construction of the new Tussahaw Reservoir is extremely aggressive, with property preserved at a seven or eight to one ratio to that being impacted. The Rum Creek preservation is much simpler, involving smaller acreage, but the property will be invaluable as it replaces wetlands impacted by sewer line extensions, easement acquisition, and other system improvements.

Wetlands mitigation is also a major component of the Authority's permit application process for constructing and operating facilities according to specified, regulatory parameters, adds Farmer. But these wetlands provide additional benefits to the county and its residents, far beyond simply serving as an item on a checklist for a permit application.

"Wetlands also serve as green space for the benefit of water and air quality, which are very important issues, especially for those of us located within the Atlanta region," he explains. "And in some instances, wetlands can provide opportunities for recreation and public education for our citizens."

Dr. Whiteside and his staff at Wetlands & Ecological Consultants are overseeing the restoration efforts, which began just a few months ago. At that time, the Authority began clearing the property and marking trees for the county to transplant to other areas, such as park sites and public buildings. Once all of the potential transplanting is done, HCWSA contractors will move in to begin the challenging task of replanting the site and creating wetlands that will also serve as a natural purifier for water reclamation.

"Soon, we'll begin planting trees, shrubs and plants that are more indigenous to this area," says Dr. Whiteside. "The Authority is putting a lot of time and resources into the preservation of this site, which we think will be a win-win for the Authority and the public."

In all, the Rum Creek Project will involve five years of oversight and monitoring by the HCWSA and Dr. Whiteside before it completes its designation as an official mitigation site. At that time, perhaps it will have even more visible evidence of the delicate balance between economic development and environmental preservation in Henry County -such as healthy wildlife that will call this site home, and serve as the true indicators of the project's success.

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