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 FRONT PAGE - FEBRUARY 2, 2000 - COMMERCE, GA

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Although there was ice on most everything else, Jackson County roads were clear during and following last weekend's ice storm. The winter storm failed to live up to expectations locally, providing no snow, very little sleet and a limited amount of damage from freezing rain.


WINTER WEATHER
Déja Vu: Another Winter Storm Mostly Misses Jackson County
It was the winter storm that wasn't. Like the Y2K crisis, last weekend's winter storm did not live up to expectations.
The massive storm projected all during last week to blanket North Georgia with snow, sleet and freezing rain as early as Friday morning, was all but a no-show.
Aside from a few minutes of sleet and some freezing rain, the great Ice Storm 2000 served only to empty grocery store shelves and make most meteorologists look foolish.
It was to have been much worse than the previous weekend's storm, which left hundreds of thousands of Georgians, among them thousands in Jackson County, temporarily without electricity. It was to have arrived with sleet Friday morning, and predictions were dire enough that school systems in Atlanta and other areas actually canceled Friday classes Thursday night with nary a snowflake in sight, only to see Friday pass without snow or ice.
The three superintendents in Jackson County conferred Thursday and decided that they would keep school open - unless the weather worsened. As it turned out, thousands of disappointed school children got in a full day of classes.
"We contacted one another at about 5:30 Friday morning. We were convinced the dew point was so low that we wouldn't get any precipitation, especially in the morning," explained Larry White, Commerce school superintendent.
White complimented the city of Commerce for its right of way maintenance program.
"That helped us a lot. A lot of school systems closed because of power outages. We didn't have many, so that helped us," he said. "My hat's off to them."
It wasn't until Friday night that a meager flake or two of snow fell, followed by a tiny bit of sleet, and while all of North Georgia was under a winter storm warning, Mother Nature refused to live up to her billings.
Even the freezing rain, which began falling Friday night and fell intermittently all Saturday, did not live up to expectations. Temperatures hovered at and just above freezing all day, and ice built up on stationary objects from trees to power lines, but there was virtually no buildup on roads in the Jackson County area.
Perhaps because the previous week's ice storm had toppled most trees and branches subject to ice damage, or maybe because there just wasn't as much precipitation, there was little damage and few reports of auto mishaps, compared to the scores that were reported the previous week.
While the ice glazed over only on deeply shaded sections of roads in the county ­ and interstate overpasses and bridges ­ it did present a sparkling winter wonderland on trees, shrubs, the ground and everything else. Every automobile parked outside overnight had an icicle beard and mustache the next morning. Long icicles hung from every metal object, and tree limbs and power lines were encased in clear crystal. Small pine trees were bowed over as if in prayer, and the occasional limb or entire tree succumbed to the weight and crashed to the ground.
For the most part, people stayed cowed by the dire predictions. Traffic was down all day Saturday and most of Sunday. Many churches canceled services for the second week in a row.
Tanger Factory Stores closed at noon Saturday and the outlet centers closed all day Sunday. Local grocery stores stayed open, but it was hard to find a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk late Friday night.
For utility workers, it was a blessing.
Commerce's electric crew worked most of both Saturday and Sunday, but the bulk of its effort was to cut out ice-laden limbs that were sagging toward the power lines.
"I don't believe we lost a line until Sunday afternoon when it started to thaw," said city manager Clarence Bryant. "We had more limb problems after the sun came out than on the other days."
There were only a couple of transformer fuses that blew, so only two or three homes were without power at any time, Bryant said.
"We wound up on Sunday with maybe 1,500 outages," said Pat Kurley, of Jackson EMC's public relations staff. "The majority of them were in Barrow County and down in the southern area of Clarke and down this way, rather than in Hall. But there were never more than 700 off at one time, and we never had a circuit out.
"I think everybody was so well prepared from the weekend before ... We felt like we had just done this and we were sharp. We were ready to go, but fortunately, it wasn't the massive storm it was the week before, when we had 50,000 people without power."
The Jackson County Road Department and the Georgia Department of Transportation laid down sand and gravel on key roads and salt on the bridges. While traffic was light, roads were virtually ice-free the entire weekend.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Railway Wants City's Help In Closing Three Grade Crossings
Norfolk-Southern Railway would like to close three public grade crossings in Commerce and wants to cut a deal to get the city's help in closing them.
Basically, the railroad will, with help from the Georgia Department of Transportation, replace or remove the retaining wall on North Broad Street and will grant the city an easement so it can pave South Broad Street Extension if the city will close the grade crossings at Brookwood Avenue, Madison Street and off South Broad Street Extension.
The Commerce City Council will hold a public hearing at its Feb. 14 meeting, starting at 6:30 p.m., to let residents who would be affected by the grade crossings provide input.
"Nobody wants any grade crossing closed. Everybody has an interest in it, whether there are 50 cars a day or 5,000," observed city manager Clarence Bryant. "What's happening is the railroad wants to make improvements to the track and the wall situation up there. In return, they want the city of Commerce to help them with their liability exposure in Commerce."
That's exactly right, says Danny Gilvert, grade crossing administrator.
"We, not just in Commerce, but wherever we can, try to close or consolidate grade crossings so we can reduce our exposure between vehicles and trains," he said. "We had 608 collisions last year and approximately 57 fatalities. We try to do anything we can to reduce that."
The effort has been successful systemwide, Gilvert said. Grade crossing accidents have decreased by approximately 40 percent in the past five or six years.
But there are no records of car-train accidents in Commerce - or in Jackson County at all.
"I don't just look at that. I look at the potential," Gilvert responded. "Every grade crossing collision comes across my desk, and eighty-plus percent of them have not had a wreck in the last five to 10 years."
Opposition to closing grade crossings has already sprung up. One of the opponents is Barbara Brooks, who with her husband has owned Goldmine Used Cars at the corner of Brookwood and North Broad Street for 11 years.
"It (the grade crossing closing) will cut the value of our property in half," she complained. "We've got two accesses, North Broad and Georgia 98. I feel like if they close it, it will cause problems for people coming in and going out."
What brought the matter to the forefront was a request from the city about an easement so South Broad Street Extension could be paved, and about the need to do something about the railroad tie retaining wall along a section of the right of way on North Broad Street.
"I found correspondence dating to '95 where there was discussion between the railroad and the city about potential closures if work could be done," Gilvert said. "So, I called Clarence Bryant and proposed that between the state and Norfolk-Southern, if we come up with funding to redo the wall and shift the track, the city would help us eliminate some crossings."
Norfolk-Southern's proposal is to do away with the retaining wall, which is beginning to collapse, and to move the track in that area several feet in the opposite direction, which it could do by eliminating a siding that is no longer used.


Group Looking At Firearms Hunting In City
The Commerce committee looking at a means of annexing Montgomery Shores Subdivis-ion is studying ordinances that would allow firearm hunting for deer and other game inside the city limits.
The issue of hunting ­ it currently is illegal to discharge a firearm in the city limits ­ is one of the most common reasons cited by property owners near the subdivision who are opposed to annexation.
"I have talked with other communities and we are waiting for their rules or ordinances that allow hunting on large tracts," said City Councilman Bob Sosebee, who chairs the committee. "Most that do allow hunting allow it on undeveloped tracts that are 40 or 50 acres or larger."
Sosebee said he wants to have those ordinances to give to the other city council members for their input. Such an ordinance would permit hunting on agricultural areas of a certain size, he said.
"We will be getting back in touch with Dr. Joe (Griffeth) and Joe Jr. to see if that's the case, would they be interested in annexing," Sosebee said.
Joe Griffeth Jr. told the committee at its initial meeting that the right to hunt on the property was the primary consideration. The Griffeth family owns land adjacent to both the city and Montgomery Shores, where property owners have reportedly expressed an interest in being in the city, and annexing part of the Griffeth property is crucial to being able to annex the subdivision.
The committee had considered seeking the annexation by legislation of all land inside the B. Wilson Road, but after residents came out in opposition to annexation, agreed that the "100 percent method," in which adjacent property is annexed at the owners' request, is the preferred method.
Sosebee said he had also notified State Senator Eddie Madden "and notified him we would not have any legislation for him.
"Annexation by legislation is our last resort, and we have no plans for it at the present," said Sosebee. "What we want to accomplish and what our neighbors want accomplished can be accomplished without having to go to that extreme."



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