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March 7, 2001


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Lady Dragons' Third Win In Four Meetings Knocks Lady Tigers From Class A's Elite 8
In the end, the Lady Dragons were just a better team, but it may take a few days for the Commerce Lady Tigers to appreciate just how successful they were this year.


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Cowne named superintendent
Keith Cowne is Madison County's new school superintendent.
He will begin working with the school system April 1.

County's long-term goals discussed at joint meeting
Decisions that county leaders make in the next six months could have an impact on the county for the next 20 years.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
SPLOST comes before county voters March 20
Banks County voters will go to the polls on March 20 to cast their ballots on extending the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) for five more years.

Tractor trailer driver loses control on Hwy. 441
The driver of a tractor trailer lost control of his vehicle after a tire blew out, sending the 18-wheeler through a guard rail and into a yard on Hwy. 441 south near Hillcrest Road.


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BEAR CREEK CONSTRUCTION

After a decade of planning, the Bear Creek Reservoir in South Jackson should soon be a reality. Designed to serve the water needs of a four-county area, including Jackson County, the facility is scheduled to go online July 1.


Nicholson: 6-Minute Meeting Avoids Zoning Issue
NICHOLSON -- The mayor and city council managed to conduct a six-minute meeting Monday night at which they once again avoided the dreaded issue of zoning.
Mayor Ronnie Maxwell and city council members Thomas Gary and Margaret Ward ­ meeting this time without the guidance of city attorney Wanda David ­ authorized new city clerk Judy Kesler to sign city checks, scheduled a meeting next Monday night with the Nicholson Water Association, authorized the annual $500 city contribution to the county senior citizens' program and accepted an accountant's review of former city clerk Dana Wilbanks' figures.
That the meeting lasted only six minutes was of little surprise. The mayor and council members are operating under a truce ­ until next month.
By the April 2 meeting, the council should have two more members, and that means the city will either implement or put to rest the issue of zoning.
Seven people have qualified to run in the March 20 special election to fill two vacant seats on the town council, and zoning is virtually the only issue.
Running against zoning is what got Maxwell elected in November. Ward and Gary both favor implementing an ordinance the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center helped the city create.
If one pro-zoning candidate is elected, Nicholson will apparently get a zoning ordinance. If both seats are filled by anti-zoning candidates, the council will be deadlocked and Maxwell will oppose the ordinance.
Nicholson has not had a full slate of elected officials since September. First, mayor Steve Wilbanks resigned, followed by councilmen Daniel Sailors (to run for county commissioner), Stanley Fouche (to run for mayor) and finally, as the city government lapsed, city clerk Dana Wilbanks.
Those seeking the two vacant seats include Sailors, Chuck Wheeler, Deborah Moore, David Crawford, Billy Kitchens, Sandra Sailors and James Kesler.
The two candidates with the most votes will be awarded the two seats.


Developer asks BOC to go against land use plan
Board to vote on rezoning March 19

A developer came before the Jackson County Board of Commissioners Monday night asking them to go against the county's land use plan and approve a rezoning application.
The BOC will act on the matter at its meeting Monday, March 19.
"I'm going to build quality homes in a quality neighborhood that should bring quality people," Joseph Buckles said. "This is still a good country setting and that's what I like about it."
The area, at 600 Big Bear Road, is designated for low-density housing on Jackson County's land use plan. Buckles said he plans to build 45 homes on 50 acres next to the Bear Creek Reservoir.
"Are you under any impression that Jackson County has changed its land use plan since we heard your case in January?" Commissioner Emil Beshara asked Buckles.
Buckles said he knew the land use plan differed from his proposed use.
"You do change zoning all the time," Buckles said. "That's what these meetings are about. I'm not asking you to change the zoning for the entire area. I'm asking you to be selective and use the power this county gave you and be smart and selective and control the growth as this commission sees fit."
Beshara challenged Buckles to find an example of a rezoning request the new board had approved that went against Jackson County's land use plan.


City Asked To Give Support
For ApartmentsThe Commerce City Council will consider a resolution that could ultimately bring 120 new apartment units into the city.
The mayor and council will meet Monday night at 6:30 at the Commerce Civic Center for their regular March meeting.
At that time, says city manager Clarence Bryant, the council will be asked to sign a resolution and send a letter to the Department of Community Affairs in support of an apartment complex on land being considered for annexation.
The proposal involves several parcels amounting to 30-40 acres, Bryant said, along Progress Road, the under-construction access road paralleling Interstate 85 from U.S. 441 to Ridgeway Road. The city's action would help the developer get financing arrangements from the state under a DCA program, Bryant said.
"This gives the developer some kind of cut in interest rates," he stated.
Before the land is annexed, it must go before the Commerce Planning Commission, which makes recommendations on land use issues to the city council.


Reservoir operations set for July 1 opening
With the project still on schedule for operation by July 1 and still within budget, the group building the Bear Creek Reservoir is beginning to focus on peripheral details ­ like how to bill members and who to invite to dedication ceremonies.
The $70 million reservoir and water treatment plant are expected to begin producing water for Jackson, Barrow, Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties by July 1. The construction remains on target, but the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority has a lot of details to iron out before the water flows to the counties.
Some of those issues came up last Wednesday morning at the February meeting of the authority.
One of them important to some Jackson County residents is the closing of Savage Road once the authority begins to fill the reservoir. The road will eventually be rerouted, but there will be several months of lengthy detours for the handful of people who live in the area. Harold Fletcher, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, raised that issue.
Fletcher told the authority that it needs to erect signs well in advance of the closing to warn area residents.
"Also, we need to have an anticipated date of the opening of the new Savage Road," he added.
Fletcher made the motion to close the road April 1, which is also the target date for starting to fill the reservoir, and the date recommended by George Byrd of Moreland Altobelli, the engineering firm overseeing the overall reservoir project.
Byrd said his firm has contacted the post office, utility companies and E-911 centers in Jackson and Barrow counties regarding the detour. Barrow E-911 will assume emergency dispatch services for the area until the new road is open.
The authority hopes to begin filling the reservoir April 1, pending approval by the Safe Dams division of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The lake will back water over the existing bridge on Savage Road.
"If we had a major rainstorm once we close the gate, it could bring water up to the bridge," Byrd noted in explaining why the road needs to be closed April 1.
The construction of the new Savage Road also affected the authority's timing for a dedication ceremony.
Eddie Elder, chairman, had proposed a July dedication, but Byrd pointed out that the new Savage Road will not be paved by that time. Terry McClane, project director for Golder and Associates, builders of the dam, also pointed out that the lake will be nowhere near full early in the summer.
"When people come, if we have it in July, there will be 44 feet of water, but there will be a big void," he stated.
The group agreed to wait until at least the week after Labor Day. The group would like Gov. Roy Barnes and EPD director Harold Reheis to be present, so the actual date could depend on their schedules.
The startup of the water plant, even for testing, complicates the accounting and budgeting process as well, according to Chris Edwards, the authority's CPA.
Edwards presented a rough draft of a budget for the current fiscal year. Whereas past budgets have dealt with just construction-related costs, Edwards had to project costs for operations as well.
Operational costs have to be segregated. For example, reservoir management costs must be allocated among the four owners of the reservoir and based on percentage of ownership (Jackson County owns 25 percent) and on the percentage of each county's allocation that it uses. Costs at the water plant must be divided among the three owners (Jackson, Barrow and Oconee counties), according to both shares of ownership and amount of water used.
Billing to the member counties is similarly complex, based on use of raw water and treated water.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Jackson Herald.



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Jefferson narrows rec director applications to three
The City of Jefferson's recreation board is considering three applicants interviewed from nine applications submitted for the post of recreation director, board chairman Tim Pass revealed at Monday's City Council work session.
The session was the latest in a string of weekly meetings scheduled to revamp the city's zoning ordinances.
Pass and board members Howard Pollock and Kevin Perry were in attendance at the meeting to update the council on the position. All three also indicated that they expect no friction between the city and county programs.
"We don't want this to look like a battle between the city and the county," Pollock said.
Current plans are for the county to handle baseball and softball programs this spring, and for the city board to take over its own programs July 1.
"We want to start a program that involves every citizen, including the handicapped, seniors and underprivileged kids," Pass said.
The city recreation board currently meets on Mondays at 6 p.m. at the Meade House behind the Jefferson Police Department.


Beshara: 'Grave' comments misquoted
Jackson County Commissioner Emil Beshara said this week that he was misquoted by, and possibly to, the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.
Specifically, Beshara says he has never advised opponents of the proposed Middle Oconee River/Doster Creek sewer line that they could stop the project by finding an Indian grave on the route.
Authority officials have repeatedly alleged that Beshara made such a remark. It was one of the reasons the authority sought a meeting with the board of commissioners to clear the air as to what's at stake if the line were not built. That meeting resulted in a public commitment of support by the BOC of the project.
"I talked to several of the people fighting the Doster Creek route and outlined several arguments that I felt might sway the authority to reconsider the route," Beshara said. "The Indian artifact angle was proposed by one of those people, and I told her that, while such a discovery would temporarily halt construction, it would not stop it. In such cases, archeologists are typically brought on site to document the fund and to collect any artifacts. Once the site has been documented, construction proceeds.
"I believe the only person I discussed the artifact scenario with was Susan Phillips," Beshara said, referring to one of the properly owners who has voiced opposition to the project.
Beshara said he "told every person I talked to that the only way the line would not be run as planned was if they could propose an alternate route that would not cost significantly more. Barring that, they would have to go to litigation to defend their constitutional rights. I suggested hiring an engineer who could examine topo maps to see if there was an alternative route. All of them appeared not willing to spend any money to fight it."


Bypass, Hwy. 11 intersection concerns school officials
Jackson County school officials are concerned about traffic hazards that may be caused by the proximity of the Jefferson bypass to Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
Superintendent of schools Andy Byers says there are two major concerns. The first is the intersection of Georgia 11 and U.S. 129 (bypass), and the second is ingress and egress to the school from Georgia 11.
"The last word I have from the DOT is that they intend to have a red light at that intersection," said Byers, who worries about just having stop signs on Georgia 11.
"I am not a traffic engineer, but common sense and logic tell me if you've got two major roads crossing, you probably need a red light there," Byers said. "But they did 316 that way. There are a lot of intersections with just stop signs."
Early on, the DOT apparently proposed to build an overpass at the intersection.
"They originally talked to us about buying dirt off the bank in front of the school for the fill necessary for the overpass," Byers said.
The other concern is the location of the school's main entrance ­ just a few feet from the intersection. However, Byers said, the DOT may be planning to address that concern.
"The DOT has looked at it. They did a survey to look at the possibility of relocating the school entrance. They're still looking at it," he said.
If the entrance is not moved, traffic flow will be a major problem, the superintendent predicted.
"Just observe how close the entrance is to the intersection," he said.
Based on his observation of the way the road is being cut, Byers says people exiting the current driveway at the school would not be able to see the people exiting the bypass "until they're right on top of them."
"Relocating the drive would solve the issue of entering and exiting onto Highway 11." It would help tremendously," Byers stated.

For the complete story, see this week's Jackson Herald.