Concerns and objections about a planned water pipeline that will cross a part of Chewacla State Park were raised last week by an online petition that advocates rerouting the pipeline "to avoid any negative impact" to the park.
Multiple Auburn residents also voiced their concerns about the pipeline during the Citizens Open Forum at the end of Tuesday's City Council meeting.
More than 2,800 people had signed the petition as of Wednesday morning.
The city responded to the petition with a press release last Friday that said the petition "clearly misrepresents" the water transmission main and addressed the "incorrect information being circulated about the project."
"It is extremely short sighted of the Water Works board, and by association the city of Auburn, and the Alabama State Parks to even consider this sort of damaging project through this unique and 'protected' piece of land in the name of saving money on a pipeline project," states the petition, which also claims that the "clear cut" easement will cross 11 miles of multi-use trail.
The city pushed back against that claim, stating that the water main's 20-foot easement will cross trails in nine locations, temporarily impacting about 180 feet of trails in the park.
In all, the proposed route for the pipeline, which would be buried, would run through 3,900 feet of Chewacla State Park, with 1,400 feet running across existing roadway.
"I think the perception out there is that we’re going to come in there and clear a 50-foot right-of-way, like you see on a power line where the trees are just trimmed and you’ve got a corridor and it’s just ugly as heck. We’re not doing that," said Eric Carson, director of the Water Resource Management Department. "This is going to be a 20-foot easement. We have a 50-foot construction easement, but we plan on staying in that 20-foot easement as much as possible. And we’re not clearing limbs, and we’re not taking the canopy away. When this is all done, you’re hardly going to know it’s there. Once you go through a few falls and the leaves fall on the ground, you’re not even going to be able to see where we are for the most part."
Members of Auburn’s mountain biking and cycling community asked the City Council on Tuesday to consider alternate routes for the water main. The City Council has no purview over the route of the pipeline; that authority rests with the Auburn Water Works Board.
Several who spoke expressed the surprise they felt when they learned the project was being considered, and many voiced concern for the disruption of trails as a result of the project.
"I really encourage you to find some other way to put this pipeline," said Todd Deery, who moved back to Auburn about four months ago and said recreation was a motivating factor in doing so.
The city has been working on the pipeline project for about a year, during which time it has met with members of the biking community in Auburn.
"I know that there’s been some concern about some races at the park," said Carson. "We met with a couple bike club members last week. They’re going to give us their race schedule, and there was one particular big race they’re looking at next March that they wanted us to work around, and I assured them we would."
It was also stated at Tuesday's council meeting that the city would rebuild any trails disrupted during construction.
Carson added that the city came up with three or four different iterations of the route until it landed on an option "we thought everybody could live with and that was to cross Chewacla Creek onto state park property and then get off to the west as soon as possible onto a developer’s property there."
"When we first started looking at it, there were basically two options — you could either go cross-country and try to get there as economically and in as short a path as you could to minimize construction costs," he said. "Or you could take a longer way and go west from the well site, up Mill Creek Road and down Shell Toomer (Parkway) and stay on public right-of-way the entire way. However in doing so, you’re adding over a mile of distance to the pipeline, which in turn drives up the construction costs dramatically, somewhere — the estimates I’ve seen are in the neighborhood of $1 million or more construction-wise.
"Also, the advantages of the route we’re taking is we’re not disrupting traffic on Mill Creek Road or Shell Toomer Parkway, which it would drastically impact traffic if you went that way."
Carson added that a longer route would add about a mile to the planned five-mile-long pipeline and also increase the age of the water as well as the cost of power to pump the water, which would be passed onto customers for the life of the well.
The new well, which came to the city's attention about three years ago and is currently under construction, is located just southwest of Good Ol' Boys Family Restaurant off Lee Road 10, said Carson. At full capacity, it would provide up to 4 million gallons of water a day, bringing the city's total capacity, including water contract purchases, to over 17 million a day.
The projected cost of the pipeline is $4 to $5 million, added Carson. Construction bids could open in October or November, with construction starting early next year and lasting six to nine months. Construction time in the park is estimated to be about three months, Carson said.