Rebutting Brown’s SPLOST defense
I was taken aback by Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown’s letter to the editor of Aug. 14 with a headline stating that the arguments of Mr. Dennis Chase against the Fayette County Core Infrastructure SPLOST Plan (“the Plan”) were “devoid of reason.”
It appeared that Mr. Brown had turned a civil discussion, albeit in the public eye, into an ad hominem attack on Mr. Chase. In order to satisfy myself, I put the letters side-by-side, researched the plan, visited the Fayette County and the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) websites, and explored projects via Google Maps.
My conclusion: the infrastructure SPLOST plan is devoid of justification for giving the commissioners some $13.2 million to spend on ill-described projects.
Mr. Brown cited the headline of Mr. Chase’s article, which read that there was “no evidence” any of the projects was needed; however Mr. Brown knows as well as I that the editor writes the headlines — including, I suspect, the headline for Mr. Brown’s letter. The difference between the letters and their headlines is that Mr. Chase did not say “no evidence,” but Mr. Brown did say, “devoid of reason.”
I do not think, and I do not believe Mr. Chase thinks, that none of the projects are necessary. What Mr. Chase said is that the plan does not provide justification for the SPLOST. I agree. The plan is a dog’s breakfast of useless maps and even more useless photos made to look important by color printing and a vinyl binder, and make to look “engineered” by pages of numbers and buzz-words.
Mr. Brown wrote that he was “... incensed that Mr. Chase would accuse the county of willy-nilly creating a ‘toxic chemical flow’ from two auto junk yards ...” But that’s not what Mr. Chase said.
What Mr. Brown said is clearly an ad hominem attack coupled with a straw man. Mr. Chase noted that there were toxic chemicals now flowing into Morning Creek and thence into our water supply (which, as we all should know, has its own problems).
He does not suggest that controlling the water would be more harmful; he merely points out that a plan to prevent pollution should be an integral part of the drainage project.
The county has agreed in its Notice of Intent (NOI) filed with the Georgia EPD that stormwater management includes “Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination ... and Pollution Prevention.” We need evidence that what’s flowing across Roberts Road isn’t a potential hazard to our drinking water.
Mr. Brown noted that it wouldn’t make sense “... to do all the engineering for a large pile of stormwater projects on a voter referendum in the $20,000 and under range, principally because it would consume a great deal of time and cash we do not have.”
Here, Mr. Brown and I are in complete agreement. If the county commissioners hadn’t made promises they couldn’t keep, and tried to dig themselves out of the hole with a SPLOST, we wouldn’t have that problem. If the county had been doing its job, there would be a prioritized list of stormwater projects that could be engineered and accomplished over time, and paid for by the stormwater utility.
Mr. Chase mentions scare tactics by the commissioners in a July 14 email to colleagues and friends, and alludes to them in his Aug. 6 letter. Mr. Brown’s letter described repairs to a culvert on Morrison Road.
I will not say “scare tactics”; rather I will point out that the Morrison Road culvert is an anecdote, and that argument by anecdote is a very poor way to make decisions. And the plural of anecdote is not “data,” no matter how badly the county commissioners want it to be.
The Fayette County Stormwater Utility was going to operate on $667,000 a year. Only when faced with a politically unpleasant reaction did the commissioners “discover” $16.8 million in projects (later reduced to $13.2 million, perhaps to “sweeten the pot” for the cities whose population the commissioners are counting on to vote for the SPLOST). Some of these projects, including the most expensive, are problematic for several reasons.
In one unconscionable example, the revised Cat 1 document offers an “order of magnitude” opinion of cost for the Emerald Lake Dam. To an engineer, mathematician, or scientist, an “order of magnitude” means, “it could be ten times more or ten times less.” It means that the $911,482 price in the document could be as low as $9,114.82 or as high as $9,114,820. How much did we pay for this “guess,” and how can such a guess be so precise as the two dollars in the lowest order digit? The pseudo-precision of the estimate looks to me like “smoke and mirrors.”
Mr. Brown said that Mr. Chase is a biologist and not an engineer. The implication is that only engineers are qualified to comment on the plan. If that is the commission’s thinking, why did they put the plan out for public review and comment?
Although my MSE is from the Purdue University School of Civil Engineering, I do not claim to be an engineer nor have I ever practiced as an engineer. My BS, from The Citadel, is in Physics. I am, as is Mr. Chase, foremost a scientist. As a scientist, I have come to the conclusion that the plan does not justify giving the commissioners $13.2 million.
SPLOST Scorecard —
Against: “Plan” does not justify the money being asked for
For: nothing, so far.
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Editor’s note: Mr. Lentz has written a series of letters exploring the dilemma underlying the SPLOST issue and his view on “the lesser of two weevils.” Those letters will be published in upcoming Wednesday editions.]