The Commerce News
April 4, 2001
Rain, Fishing And Bureaucracies
We slipped out of town last week for a mini-vacation to spend
three nights with my sister Laurel and her husband Larry in Titusville
(pronounce that with a long I, please), FL. I had my eye on a
little fishing for redfish in the Indian River.
Florida has been under a drought more severe even than ours,
but to celebrate our arrival, Mother Nature dumped 2.9 inches
of rain into the nearest rain gauge, an amount that probably
would have been greater but for the fact the water was traveling
I mention this only to enter it into the record; I'm fairly certain
that the Beardsleys have never taken a trip to Florida, however
brief, that has not rained. Once I document this hypothesis,
it is my intention to offer (for a fee) to visit Florida monthly
as a means of assuring that the Sunshine State get its needed
supply of rain to replenish the aquifer so the orange trees and
Disney Enterprises can continue to grow.
The fishing was largely without merit, due primarily to a combination
of my lack of knowledge (since rectified) of where to go and
wind that would hurl a lure back into your face. But I got to
fish in Mosquito Bay (obviously no one cleared the name in advance
with the chamber of commerce), which is in the Merritt Island
Wildlife Preserve just north of Cape Canaveral.
If the fishing lacked, certainly there was no similar lacking
of wildlife. I spotted a bald eagle, a river otter, enough ducks
to titillate the entire Ducks Unlimited chapter, wading birds
of all sizes and descriptions, alligators and, my first ever,
It seemed that all of Brevard County is but one big marsh. This
is probably not the greatest thing in the world during the summer
months, but in mid-spring (summer is almost there already), it's
quite nice. With their home backed up to a protected marsh, the
unimpeded view off the huge back porch is assured of remaining
intact. It is a birdwatcher's paradise, not to mention self-proclaimed
redfish capital of the world.
Interstate 95 runs through the county, and the Georgia DOT could
teach its Florida counterparts a lot about traffic engineering.
If you think our roads are created by deranged engineering drop-outs,
you'll feel better after experiencing the I-95 corridor. The
first thing you notice on I-95 leaving Florida is how much nicer
and safer it is once you enter Georgia. Florida also
leads Georgia in "We Dare To Bare" establishments,
but that's another issue.
There is talk of closing road access to Merritt Island. NASA
has been told to make up some cost overruns on the space station
from its operating budget; the first thing it will do is to quit
maintaining the network of roads in the area, which it will close
to the public, creating (NASA hopes) a groundswell of anger from
citizens who will lobby Congress into increasing the funding.
NASA needs the roads for security anyway, but closing them to
the public creates a mandate for more spending.
Florida's drought and roads may be worse, but it's got the same
kind of bureaucrats. They'd close a national treasure to the
public in a political ploy to get more funds. Some things are
the same everywhere.
Mark Beardsley is editor of The Commerce News.
The Jackson Herald
April 4, 2001
unfriendly to free speech
The battleground over free speech has shifted in recent years
to the campuses of our nation's colleges. It began several years
ago when a number of colleges and universities adopted "speech
codes" to eliminate what many called "hate speech."
Students are sensitive, don't you know.
The latest fight over free speech on college campuses centers
around a paid advertisement that denounced the idea of paying
slavery reparations. Conservative commentator David Horowitz
attempted to place the ad in college newspapers all across the
country. The ad, titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for
Slavery Is a Bad Idea - and Racist Too," did run in a few
college papers, but was rejected by many others.
On several of the campuses where the ad did get published, the
reaction from liberal students was harsh. At Brown University,
newspapers were stolen en mass as an act of "civil disobedience."
At the University of California, Berkeley, the editor of the
college newspaper ran a front page apology for having published
the ad. At least 15 college newspapers, including Georgia Tech,
rejected the ad as being politically unacceptable.
We thought college campuses were supposed to be a place where
intellectual discourse was encouraged, where ideas were debated
and exchanged. Apparently that is no longer the case.
We don't argue that these college newspapers didn't have the
right to reject the ad. That's perfectly legal. This newspaper
has also rejected ads if we know the information to be false
or potentially libelous or if the ad is crude and in bad taste.
But the Horowitz ad was not some KKK broadside against African-Americans.
It was not spreading false information, nor was it libelous or
in bad taste. It was a legitimate response to a growing debate
over whether descendants of American slaves should be paid billions
of dollars by the federal government. Horowitz opposes such a
plan and outlined why in his advertisement.
That so many college newspapers refused to publish his views
is another sign that our college campuses have become a bastion
for liberal orthodoxy which tolerates no dissenting views.
And when our colleges slam the door shut to free speech and open
debate, can the rest of our society be far behind?
The Jackson Herald
April 4, 2001
standards a good move
For several months, leaders of the Jefferson City School System
have been working on a plan they believe will push their students
That's a rare event in today's public schools - more often than
not, public schools have celebrated mediocrity, not excellence.
It isn't often that we've seen schools raise academic standards.
Just by coincidence, Jefferson's plans also fit with this year's
move by Gov. Roy Barnes to end social promotion in schools. While
many other school systems are just now beginning to plan for
the end of social promotions, Jefferson is six months ahead of
The genesis of Jefferson's plan came when school leaders realized
the system would have some space available next year after its
new middle school is completed. With growing classroom demands
in the system's elementary school, leaders began to look for
a way to use its old middle school building to relieve some of
Leaders considered several ideas, but the one that made the most
sense was to use the old middle school to house fifth grade students.
From that sprang the idea of creating a "Fifth Grade Academy"
in the facility to focus more attention on that critical elementary
School officials have long noted the difficult transition between
the fifth and sixth grade years. Students who enter the sixth
grade without a solid academic background often struggle to survive
their middle school years successfully.
So it only makes sense for a school to focus on the fifth grade
year in an effort to better prepare students for the challenges
of middle school. The key to Jefferson's plan is to raise academic
standards and to provide a more intense and expanded fifth grade
curriculum. One part of that is to provide extra assistance to
students who are not performing up to fifth grade levels.
By housing fifth graders in their own facility, school leaders
also hope to create a more focused atmosphere where academics
will be the priority. The goal is to have students doing some
work at the sixth grade level by the time students finish the
Although it was not the initial focus, leaders hope that setting
high academic standards in the fifth grade will also ripple both
up and down through the school system. If the tougher fifth grade
standards work, the curriculum below the fifth grade should become
more challenging to meet the new fifth grade demands. Likewise,
if fifth graders learn and achieve more, the standards of the
upper grades should climb as well.
While this plan to raise academic standards is sound, some parents
have expressed concerns about the effort. Most of the questions
I've heard ask why this move is necessary in the first place,
or express a fear that the system is being "too hard"
on its students.
While it's true that overall Jefferson students generally perform
well on standardized testing, they are not at the top of the
list in North Georgia. For example, last year JES was 23 out
of 106 elementary schools in Northeast Georgia and 248th statewide.
Schools in Forsyth County, Oconee County, Habersham County, Hall
County, Morgan County, Madison County, Barrow County and Commerce
Elementary School all outperformed JES on standardized test results.
In neighboring Gwinnett County, 36 out of 52 elementary schools
On another scale, CRCT results from last year's JES fourth graders
showed that 30 percent were not meeting state standards in reading,
31 percent did not meet standards in math and 24 percent did
not meet standards in English. Those numbers are about average
for the area, but still clearly show that there's a lot of room
for improvement, especially since the CRCT will soon become a
"gateway" test for grade promotions.
As for the new standards being "too hard," I doubt
that will be the case. In reality, the curriculum in most American
public schools is far less rigorous and demanding than in many
schools of other industrialized nations. Students can achieve
far more than we think if they are challenged. In fact, some
other school systems, including the neighboring Gwinnett County
system, have already set higher curriculum standards. What Jefferson
proposes to do is no different from that.
In addition to the higher academic standards, Jefferson's plan
for a Fifth Grade Academy also include a variety of new enrichment
programs. That's a huge need at JES. The school's fine arts and
enrichment programs are lacking when compared to many other area
It will be a few years before the results of this Fifth Grade
Academy are known. But any move to raise academic standards in
a public school are important because such efforts are rare in
today's anti-intellectual cultural environment.
Jefferson leaders get an "A" for this effort. Hopefully,
it will be the students who make the grade in the long run.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
April 4, 2001
Not All That SimpleThe Georgia Department of Natural Resources'
top water official was quoted in the Athens newspaper as saying
Georgia needs to build a number of reservoirs to protect itself
against future droughts. He calls it "common sense."
Nolton Johnson, head of the Georgia Environmental Protection
Division's Water Resources Branch, points out that in 1989, in
the aftermath of the previous drought, state funds were approved
for the construction of 13 regional reservoirs in North Georgia.
Only one of those was built. The Bear Creek Reservoir in southwest
Jackson County is alone among the regional projects - and it
is being constructed without state funds. There are several reasons
why more reservoirs are not built.
For starters, they are terribly expensive, which is why a regional
approach is favored. But a regional reservoir requires political
and public cooperation among a multitude of jurisdictions that
just doesn't happen very easily. The Bear Creek Reservoir project
involved only four counties, but it would never have gotten off
the ground but for the leadership of Wendell Dawson, then chairman
of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners. Dawson managed to
keep Athens-Clarke, Jackson, Barrow and Oconee officials at the
table, a feat only marginally less miraculous than Moses' parting
of the Red Sea.
The federal and state permitting processes are formidable obstacles
as well. Neither the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nor the EPD
provides a smooth, clear-cut way to get the permits needed to
impound a large body of water. From a permitting standpoint,
building a regional reservoir is the local equivalent of constructing
a nuclear power plant.
But the largest obstacle may be the state's interest itself.
It is assumed in rural Georgia that the state government covets
the power to control all water resources in Georgia. Local governments
have a hard time putting up the kind of money it takes to build
a reservoir when the state appears ready to assume decisions
for how that water is used and maybe even where it goes.
The state's best line of defense against future drought lies
not in building more reservoirs, but in reducing per capita water
usage. Just as the nation's lifestyle is based on cheap, abundant
energy, so is it also based on cheap, abundant water. We're just
beginning to see energy prices soar; water costs will ultimately
follow as Georgia's rapid growth rate continues, drought or no
Water is our most precious and most wasted natural resource;
we treat it as if the supply were infinite and as if pollution
were a constitutional right. And when we run short, the automatic
reaction (like that in the energy crisis) is to run and find
more, when we ought to look more closely first at our habits
of consumption and the unchecked growth virtually all of Georgia
Building more reservoirs might very well be prudent for Georgia;
developing better water management practices on both the local
and state levels might be wiser yet.