An online petition has continued to gain signatures requesting Auburn city officials reroute a proposed Auburn Water Works Board pipeline, which is set to to run through Chewacla State Park. Over 3,000 people have signed the petition as of publication.
The pipeline is designed to run through 3,900 feet of Chewacla State Park, crossing trails in approximately nine locations, according to the Water Works Board.
The pipeline will deliver water from a new well near Sandhill Road near the state park and is set to run underneath the state park to the James Estes Water Treatment Plant for distribution to Auburn customers. The well will supply the city with an additional four million gallons of water per day, according to an Auburn Water Works Board statement.
Schmidt Environmental Construction was awarded the construction contract for the well in June and began work at the well site in July. The well project is expected to continue into early 2020, according to the Auburn Water Works Board.
The pipeline, called the Water Supply Well #4 Transmission Main, is a separate project that connects to the well that is already under construction.
As of Aug. 19, no holes have been dug for the pipeline, but the project and the pipeline’s route have already been approved by relevant boards and commissions.
Construction of the pipeline is scheduled to begin in January 2020 and the Water Works Board expects the project to extend into late summer 2020.
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The city was not required to release a public notice about the path of the pipeline once it was decided because the Water Works Board is a separate, independent entity from the city, said City Manager Jim Buston.
The Water Works Board contracted with private landowners for the majority of the pipeline’s path.
The board needed permission from the Alabama State Parks Division to go through the park, which Alabama State Parks Director Gregory Lein granted. Explicit permission from Chewacla State Park was not necessary.
The petition targets the State Parks Division’s decision to allow the pipeline in the park.
“According to the Alabama State Parks Website, (www.alapark.org) the Mission Statement of the Alabama State Parks is to ‘To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities, and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.’ This project does not further that mission,” the petition reads.
The petition also mentions fears of disrupting biking and running trails, which are home to the Central Alabama Mountain Bike Pedalers and local middle and high school teams.
The petition also includes examples of the different ways Chewacla adds to the Auburn community. The park hosts many different events for the community and is a frequented location for the mountain biking community.
Each year, the Crank Down in Tiger Town event brings cyclists from across Alabama and neighboring states to the park and community to participate in the bike race.
The park is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, including multiple protected animals, according to a protected species evaluation the city conducted in July 2019.
The protected species evalutation found that Chewacla Creek, which runs along the project site for 22 feet, is designated as a critical habitat for the ovate clubshell, southern clubshell and fine-lined pocketbook mussels.
The city also conducted a wetland and stream evaluation, as well as a cultural and historical survey of project site.
A permit is required to construct through Chewacla Creek. A permit application has been submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Eric Carson, Auburn Water Resource Management director, expects approval to be received soon.
As the petition was gaining traction on social media, the Auburn Water Works Board released a statement.
The statement rebukes a notion in the petition that 11 miles of trails will be disrupted by construction, which states that only 180 feet of trails will be impacted.
“The board will ensure that any impact to the trails at these intersection points are repaired in accordance with standards established by the Alabama State Parks Division and the Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP) mountain biking group. Construction is being coordinated around any major races at the park.”
The board also said that 1,400 feet of the pipeline will run alongside existing roadways in the park, where digging an easement for the pipeline would not require the clearing of trees. The remaining 2,500 feet would require a 20-foot-wide clearing for the pipeline to go through.
Ultimately, the petition calls for the rerouting of the pipeline around the park, which would require more resources. The cost of doing so has been estimated to be around $1 million, according to Buston.
“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,” the petition reads.
The author of the petition, Tim Carlton, met with two Council members, Eric Carson and a member of the firm designing the pipeline project. Carlton posted an update to the petition after the meeting, proposing that even if the pipeline does go through Chewacla, citizens should be involved in making sure steps are being taken to minimize impact to the park.
Ultimately, the pipeline is still set to be constructed soon, partially running through Chewacla State Park. It is up to the Alabama State Parks Division to deny permission for the pipeline or the Auburn Water Works Board — not city government — to reroute.
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