News from Banks County...

February 11, 2002


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OPINIONS
Jana Adams

From the Œlove lotteryı to St. Valentine
If you lived in ancient Rome, mid-February could have found you paired off for a year with someone who drew your name out of a hat, or more specifically, an urn, at the end of Lupercalia, a fertility festival.

Editorial
If itıs not taxpayer money,
whose money is it?
The president of the Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau declared at a meeting last week that the $112,000 the organization expects to collect this year is not taxpayerıs money.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Hoopsters need win to stay alive
Leopards, Lady Leopards scheduled for play-in game. Two wins stand in the way of both the Leopards and the Lady Leopardsı chance of getting to the state tournament this year.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
ŒBraselton/Hoschton bypassı not in the works, officials say

New courthouse site proposed
BOC to hold forum Feb. 13 to outline proposed location
A potential site for a new Jackson County Courthouse will officially be unveiled next week following action this week to take options on several tracts of land.

While the rumor mill may say Braselton and Hoschton will see a bypass in the near future, the Department of Transportation and county officials say it isnıt so.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Trust in Joist?
Residents raise concerns about possible contamination from wood products plant. The cafeteria of Colbert Elementary school was filled to capacity Tuesday night, as more than 100 people came out to hear and talk about their concerns over air and water quality around Colbertıs Trus Joist plant, a wood products manufacturing plant located just east of the town.

Madison Co. BOE adopts another redistricting plan
The Madison County Board of Education adopted a redistricting plan last week that complies with the wishes of State Senator Mike Beatty.

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THOMAS SELECTED

Annie Thomas, 58, was recently recognized in a statewide competition of GED students. She was one of seven people in the state presented with the Exceptional Adult Georgian Literacy Education Award.

Armed robbery reported at Regions Bank. South Carolina woman charged;
warrant issued for second suspect
Warrants have been issued for a South Carolina couple in the armed robbery Thursday at Regions Bank at Banks Crossing.
Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman said warrants have been issued for Vickie Lee Barton, 25, Marietta, S.C., and Micky Alexander Peterson, 32, Travelers Rest, S.C., both on armed robbery charges. Barton is being held by the Cocke County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee and is to be extradited to Banks County. Peterson is still at-large.
The bank was robbed around 3:50 p.m. Thursday when a white male went into the bank wearing a heavy trench coat and baseball cap and carrying a pop shotgun. Sheriff Chapman said he demanded the money and threatend to "blow away" the bank employees if they didn't cooperate.
"He also told them that if they put a dye pack in the bag, he would come back and take care of them," the sheriff said.
He left the bank in a vehicle that he had left parked to the side of the bank. The sheriff said a bank employee described the vehicle as being dark-colored and having a South Carolina tag. She also gave a partial tag number.
The sheriff said deputies were at the bank within four minutes of being called to the robbery. A look out was placed on the vehicle in all surrounding counties and states.
The sheriff said the car used in the robbery was found abandoned Friday on Haggard Road, which is located off of Ridgeway Church Road in Banks County. A Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputy went to check out the car and the Banks County Sheriff's Office was called in because it fit the description of the car used in the robbery. It was a late model Honda Civic and had been stolen out of Spartanburg, S.C.
The Banks County Sheriff's Office got its next break in the case on Saturday morning when a call came in from the Hamlin County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office where Barton had been picked up on public drunk charges.
Chapman said the Tennessee officials said that they had received some pieces of evidence that might link her to the Banks County bank robbery. Banks County law enforcement officers traveled to Tennessee and interviewed the woman, along with a federal agent. The sheriff said Barton was "very cooperative" and told the officers that she and Peterson had rented a motel room at Banks Crossing several days prior to the armed robbery. The sheriff said that Barton also said that she had traveled to Spartanburg with Peterson the day before the robbery and he stole the vehicle used.
"She said they went together and picked out the spot where they were going to abandon the vehicle at," the sheriff said. "She said that she met him at the pick up spot on Haggard Road and from there they went north and ended up in Tennessee."
Chapman said Banks County officers searched the Banks Crossing motel room and found paperwork from Regions Bank that was taken in the armed robbery. No money has been recovered yet.
Peterson is also wanted in a Jan. 24 armed robbery in Oconee County, S.C., Chapman said. He added that federal charges may be filed against the couple in the Banks County robbery.
Regions Bank was also robbed last year.


Faith leads way to education for Banks woman
When Annie Thomas picked up her Bible and found there were words she could not understand nor pronounce, she decided it was time to go ³back to school.²
Little did she know when she started down that path that she would be recognized statewide in the GED program. Thomas was one of seven people selected by the State of Georgiaıs Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education (EAGLE) Program to serve as an ambassadors of adult literacy for the next year.
As to winning the EAGLE Award, Thomas said, ³Itıs the best thing thatıs happened to me since God saved me. Words canıt describe it. I couldnıt believe it when they called out my name. But you know, I went to win. Iım one of those people who believes thereıs nothing you canıt do if you have faith in God and confidence in yourself.²
She said she was a bit nervous going before the panel of three judges.
³They asked so much about our lives, our goals and what it meant to working towards a GED,² she said.
Now, Thomas will speak to organizations promoting adult literacy.
Thomas dropped out of school when she was in fifth grade. At age 12, she was married and had a child.
Though she looks back happily on her life with her husband, Alvin, and as the mother of 10 children, grandmother to 28, and great-grandmother to four, she emphatically said the best thing a young person can do is ³stay in school. Donıt quit.²
Sheıs proud that nine of her children graduated and some went on to complete at least some college. Her youngest son, Alvin Jr., is a ninth-grader at Banks County High School.
³Itıs a challenge,² she said. ³But if itıs not a challenge, itıs no fun.²
In 1999, at age 55, she started studying to earn a GED through classes at the Banks County Adult Literacy center.
According to the director at the time, Patti Reed: ³Miss Annie was one of my best pupils. She studied hard.²
But surgery got in the way of her studies for a while and the medication she had to take caused partial memory loss.
³I had to start all over,² she said. ³Everything I had achieved, I lost.²
For the past year, she has been making great strides and manages to work part-time and go to school part-time.
³I try to put in three hours a day in class,² she said.
The new books have helped, she added. They have more information than ones she worked with previously, she said.
³I feel like Iım making more progress,² she said.
She says she also finds information on the Internet that helps her with her studies.
³My family has been a great help to me,² she said. ³My grandkids think itıs just great that Iım in school. And my pastor, the Rev. Walter Fleming of the Faith Temple Church of God and Christ, is very excited about my education. He pushes me to keep doing well. And he tells people at the church, ŒIf Miss Annie can do it, so can you.ı Thereıs a number of our folks that have gone back to school.²
Sheıs particularly proud of being able to help her youngest son with his homework. She did confide that he helped her, too.
Robin Trotter, Family Connections director, has only known Thomas a short time, but she feels Thomas ³will accomplish whatever she sets her mind on.²
³She is a very special woman,² she said.
Thomas said her goal is to go on to get a bachelorıs degree in education to help someone else as much as she has been helped. She also feels the pull to be an evangelist.
³I cannot afford to give up,² she said. ³I just want to be the best possible person I can be. That would be impossible without an education.²


Alto citizens fight proposed asphalt plant
Citizens of Alto and area residents turned out in large numbers last week to voice their opposition to a department of transportation (DOT) asphalt plant set to go up on prison property in the next few months.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Divisionıs air quality management division held a public meeting and hearing requested by the residents to address concerns about the safety of the plant.
The DOT has been in discussions with department of corrections officials to build the ³mobile plant² on an eight-acre plot at Lee Arrendale Correctional Institution. The prison property is located on North County Line Road in Banks County.
The plant, which is currently operating in Carnesville, would be moved to the site in the next few months if the Air Quality Permit is granted by the EPD, said Terri Pope, DOT public relations. The plant is projected to be in operation for three years. It will produce around 30,000 tons annually during its average four-day-a-week, four-hours-per-day operation with around 20 dump trucks per day doing the hauling.
While 30,000 tons and 20 dump truck loads a day didnıt sound like a lot to DOT officials, it was more than the area residents want. And they spared no words in letting James P. Johnston, EPD program manager, John R. Yntema, EPD combustion unit manager, and Pope know how they felt about a plant that would literally be in their backyard.
One after another, they voiced concerns over the possibility of allergic reactions and respiratory distress of themselves and their children to the fumes, worries of contaminants reaching surface and groundwater sources, devaluation of their property and concerns over the risk to their childrenıs safety as the dump trucks roll out of the plant. As Banks is an agricultural county, they are also worried that contaminants from the plant would get into crops and animals.
Johnston said: ³Any decision the EPD will make as to whether or not to issue this permit will be based on the facilityıs ability to comply with the air quality regulations it will be subject to. The EPD has no authority over the actual physical location of the plant. We donıt look at where the plant is located.²
He also said the issue of water contamination was not part of the hearing and asked residents not to ask questions about those concerns. He said he would give them a person to contact on those issues after the hearing.
³This is only an air quality permit hearing,² said Johnston. ³I recognize that you have other concerns but they are not under the purview of this hearing.²
Resident Phil Boulevard, said: ³I feel like Iım at the wrong meeting. Yıall canıt help stop this. What meeting do I need to be at to stop this?²
Adele Kushner spoke about the chemicals in asphalt and their potential to do harm.
³They are like a rogueıs gallery of the nastiest ones — benzene, cyclohexane, ethylbenzene, n-hexane, hydrochloric acid, methanol, napthalene, phenanthrene, toluene and xylene,² she said. ³The worst of them is benzene, which causes cancer, tumor growth, reproductive system damages and spontaneous abortions, produces birth defects and can cause inheritable genetic changes resulting in Down Syndrome. Even when these chemicals are not concentrated enough to cause these effects, the fumes irritate the nose throat and lungs, cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. They can cause severe irritation of the skin.²
All these chemicals have the potential to do harm, according to government and industry research statistics, and they all have one thing in common, she said. All are listed as ³human mutagenics.² This means there has been enough convincing evidence that show the chemicals cause inheritable genetic changes, Kushner said.
Yntema said the plant would not be producing much of a quantity of these toxins since the main fuel source was going to be liquid propane which burns cleaner.
Johnston said the plant would not be a source of pollution as long as it met state regulations and kept monitoring its operations.
³No matter where youıre at, whether youıre right next to the plant or a mile away, the air that you would breathe would be safe for human health,² he said.
Frank Bove asked: ³How can you tell people there will be no respiratory problems when youıve said there have been no studies done on the impact of asphalt plants. How can you possibly make these assurances?²
He continued saying there is no safe limit of benzene exposure, according to government research.
³It a triple threat here,² he said. ³The air, the water and the contaminated dirt from the plant. Youıre affecting the lives of thousands of people.²
Yntema continued explaining the plant operation (see side bar), saying the plant could produce a blue-haze cloud which would come from the amount of moisture in the air.
³The fumes go through the scrubber but theyıre not really captured,² he said. Itıs mainly a nuisance, depending on how close you are to the plant.²
He also said there would be ³fugitive emissions² from the loading of the asphalt into the dump trucks.
Danny Otter, a builder developing 100 acres of land on Garland White Road, asked how far away could the odor be detected. He asked: ³How does it compare to a chicken house on a hot, summer day?²
Johnston said it depends on the weather and how far away one was.
³Iıve been around some well-run plants and I could not smell them,² he said.
He said the prisonıs hog farm would smell a lot worse.
³Let me make it clear to you, there are no state regulations on odor,² he said. ³While an odor may be unpleasant, it doesnıt necessarily mean that there are health impacts.²
As for the dump trucks and their emissions from diesel fuel, he said there are federal guidelines for emissions that the trucks are supposed to meet.
Herbert Jones, who worked at an asphalt plant, said none of the employees would drink the water at the plant site. He added that they would bring their own. His home will be near the plant. His daughter suffers from severe allergies which can bring on grand mal seizures. The family moved to north Georgia from Atlanta to get away from pollutants that posed threats to his daughterıs health on her doctorıs advice.
He asked: ³I want to know is the state going to responsible if my child dies? Iım dead serious. This is going to be detrimental to my kidıs health.²
Johnston replied: ³Itıs the EPDıs responsibility to ensure that any industry follows the state regulations. If they meet the requirements, we are obligated to issue the permit.²
He said that the standards set on air quality had taken into account respiratory problems.
But that information did little to appease the residents. Some left the meeting feeling it was a waste of their time and the EPD had no intention of addressing their concerns.
Ann Kruse said she had called and spoken with Johnston about the issue of water concerns and what would happen if the ponds overflowed from rainfall and ended up in the adjacent streams or ground water.
³You keep saying this is just about air quality,² she said. ³I was under the impression we would discuss these things.²
She pointed out the population of the area was 40 percent children and people over 65.
³If there were $300,000 or $400,000 homes in the area, we wouldnıt be here,² she said. ³To me, youıve already decided to grant the permit.²
Others commented that the site was chosen because of the low-income status of the area.
Kushner presented Johnston with a list of 60 signatures gathered in front of the prison over a two-hour period. She said people coming in to visit family members in the prison were concerned about the plant being so close.
She asked: ³How can the EPD assure us that our air is safe to breathe? It canıt. But it will bear the brunt of lawsuits that follow from sick children and falling property values.²
She also requested an environmental impact statement and a risk assessment report be prepared prior to approving the application.
Margaret Weeks stood and sai:, ³I am Georgia. I have lived here all my life. I live in walking distance from where you are building your plant. Iım not sure your plant will not hurt our neighbors. One life is not worth that plant. We donıt want it in our back yard.²
Sandra King, who said she suffered with severe allergies, pleaded, ³Weıre the working class poor. We have very little, but itıs ours. Help us protect our community.²
At the end of the hearing, Johnston said he did not know when the permit would be approved and the DOT given the go-ahead.
³All the comments will be considered,² he said.
Pope said: ³The asphalt produced is to be used internally for DOT maintenance projects in Northeast Georgia. It will be used for local roads, pot holes, turn lanes. With so much to do over here, we really need the plant at a closer location.²
She said the plant would maintain the asphalt at 350-degrees F, the temperature needed to spread it. The permit DOT applied for will allow 100,000 tons per year to be produced, but they donıt expect to use any where near that amount, she said.
To comply with Georgiaıs ³Fugitive Dust Regulation,² Pope said a spray truck would be onsite to water the area and road, keeping the dust at the plant. She also said DOT uses a citrus blend as a spray liner of the trucks to keep the asphalt from sticking to the sides of the truck beds. It replaces harmful asphalt-dissolving solvents, another environmental concern voiced by the residents.
The Carnesville plant produced 30,312 tons last year, Pope said. Over the past 11 years in Carnesville, the plant has received no EPD citations or fines, she added.



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Hotel-motel tax raises questions
Westmoreland looks at tax use. Banks County commissioner Pat Westmoreland waded into an ongoing controversy last week over the allocation of the countyıs hotel-motel tax.
Westmoreland called the county government to ³revisit² its dealings with the Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau, saying the county hadnıt done a good job in promoting itself.
³I think the contract agreement that we have with the county and the CVB needs to be revisited,² Westmoreland said during a Friday meeting. ³That 40 percent of the hotel-motel tax needs to be distributed out to other entities of the county to fulfill what I think is lacking in tourism advertising. I think we are failing in our promotion of Banks County tourism. I think we are failing in Banks County in our economic development.²
Forty percent of the sales tax collected from hotels and motels goes to the CVB.
Westmoreland said the commissioners need to look at how the money is being spent.
³We, as a commission, are responsible for the taxes and the money we disburse and how we handle it,² he said. ³Personally, I donıt think we are doing a good job or being good stewards of the expenditures.²
Westmoreland said the BOC, CVB, chamber of commerce, development authority and historical society should meet together and discuss this issue. He said the group needs to ³come up with a better plan on promoting Banks Countyıs
tourism and economic development.²
The commissioner also said businesses and industries interested in coming into Banks County donıt have one contact to get in touch with to get information.
³That (the chamber of commerce) is the first contact when you want to come into a county,² Westmoreland said. ³I feel we are doing a terrible job of promoting both tourism and economic development. I admit that I am just as much as fault at that as anyone else in Banks County. Iım not pointing the blame at others. Iım just saying that we arenıt coming together and doing what we can do and need to do to promote tourism and economic development.²
Westmoreland also read the part of the agreement the county has with the CVB that states financial reports and audits need to be submitted to the county. He said he hasnıt seen an audit or financial reports.
During the meeting, chairman Kenneth Brady said the reports were ³on his desk.² But after the meeting, when asked for the reports for November and December of 2001, he said he didnıt have them.
Also during the discussion, Brady spoke on the lack of a chamber employee being at the office to answer calls. The office has not been manned since former employee Sherry Ward left to work for the CVB.
³If they (the chamber) donıt get back up and running, do we need to pull our funds back,² Brady said. ³...It is something to think about...The chamber should be up and running so if
someone wants to contact our county, they have someone to call.
The county provides $20,000 each year to the chamber.
Chairman Brady and commissioner Ernest Westmoreland didnıt comment on Westmorelandıs comments. Brady repeatedly asked the commissioner to meet with the press after the meeting to discuss the matter.


CVB board member to oversee county motel, hotel tax collection
Gordon Eanes, the Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau funding oversight committee chairman, will oversee the organizationıs revenue collections from the county.
CVB president Bonnie Johnson said at last weekıs meeting that he was selected because of his experience in accounting.
³He will review the hotel/motel tax collection reports from the Banks County commission office and ensure proper collection,² she said. ³He will work with local and state officials to verify that the proper amount of taxes is collected and that 40 percent of those funds are forwarded to the Banks County CVB as designated by the CVB and county agreement.²
The hotel/motel tax is a surcharge added onto room rates at the I-85 hotels and motels.
³Itıs not property taxes or things of that nature,² she said. ³If we can get this through some peopleıs heads, weıd be a lot better off. It is not taxpayerıs dollars.²
Eanes explained the process through which the CVB receives its funding. The county imposes a five-cent tax on all room rentals through a state legislative act. The only way the county can collect that revenue is by ³allocating 40 percent to an entity that is independent of the county budget to promote convention and business bureau activity,² he said.
He said this is nothing new, that the CVB has always tracked its revenues. He said he would confirm that each place of lodging is on the list and the
taxes paid.
Westmoreland also read the part of the agreement the county has with the CVB that states financial reports and audits need to be submitted to the county. He said he hasnıt seen an audit or financial reports.
During the meeting, chairman Kenneth Brady said the reports were ³on his desk.² But after the meeting, when asked for the reports for November and December of 2001, he said he didnıt have them.
Also during the discussion, Brady spoke on the lack of a chamber employee being at the office to answer calls. The office has not been manned since former employee Sherry Ward left to work for the CVB.
³If they (the chamber) donıt get back up and running, do we need to pull our funds back,² Brady said. ³...It is something to think about...The chamber should be up and running so if someone wants to contact our county, they have someone to call.²
The county provides $20,000 each year to the chamber.
Chairman Brady and commissioner Ernest Rogers didnıt comment on Westmorelandıs comments. Brady repeatedly asked the commissioner to meet with the press after the meeting to discuss the matter.