Jackson County Opinions...

April 10, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
April 10, 2002

Time To Start Talking About Global Warming
Anyone who doesn't believe in global warming should listen to the old timers talk about the severe winters of their childhoods, when a three-mile trek to school through four feet of snow was a daily routine in Northeast Georgia.
Then look at the past few winters. A single snowstorm this winter provided barely enough packable snow that a handful of Commerce residents pried themselves away from their computers long enough to build snowmen.
Even I can remember when a couple of snowfalls and an ice storm or two could be expected every winter, along with several days of temperatures dipping into the teens and a number of panics when grocery stores appeared low on bread.
Not any more; it's getting warmer.
I stay awake at night worrying about global warming, especially in the summer, when the idea of anything getting warmer is as welcome as a vampire at a blood drive. Global warming does not seem so threatening in March, but by August it is a crisis second in importance only to the presentation of the Emmys or the outcome of "Survivor."
The challenge will be to make the adjustment to a warmer climate, like a Buffalo resident must do when relocating in West Palm Beach. We have yet not addressed the national implications of global warming, so while I may be the smallest cog in the journalism wheel, let me get things started.
Among the ramifications of global warming are:
•The melting of ice caps, which will increase sea levels, which will cause flooding of coastal areas. The downside is the loss of valuable real estate at beach resorts. The upside is that the economy will boom from building resorts at new coastal towns like Baxley, Tallahassee and Orlando.
•New Orleans will become the Atlantis of the 21st Century.
•Higher demands for electricity will cause nationwide brownouts like California experienced last year. That will lead to public demand for more power plants, including nuclear power plants, which will be declared environment-friendly.
•Red wine will no longer be served at room temperature.
•Global warming will be cited as a reason for building a new courthouse complex on Darnell Road.
•Liberals will combat the causes of global warming by holding a celebrity telethon.
•Conservatives will propose drilling for oil in Yellowstone National Park, Arlington National Cemetery and the Mall in Washington.
•President Bush will implement voluntary measures for reducing greenhouse gases, such as refilling your SUV when the tank is half full to save gasoline.
•Volunteerism will decline.
•Israelis and Palestinians will kill one another.
•Ice skating, ski boarding and ski jumping will be replaced at Winter Olympic Games by pairs rollerblading, skateboarding and hop-scotch.
•The Internet will melt.
•All of south Florida will relocate to Atlanta, forcing the DOT to build an “Eastern Arc” through Jefferson.
•No matter the temperature, the Atlanta Falcons will never be hot. Some things don’t ever change.


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
April 10, 2002

Mixed feelings about Leo Daly turndown
We have mixed feelings about the decision last week by the Leo Daly Firm to turn down a presentation to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
Leo Daly, which worked with the courthouse committee over the last three years and recommended a downtown Jefferson site for a courthouse annex, said, in essence, that it didn’t want to waste time with the BOC because the board had already decided on a site outside downtown Jefferson.
We certainly understand why Leo Daly wouldn’t want to spend additional time in debating the issue with the BOC. Indeed, it would probably not have been a discussion, but rather a heated confrontation as various members of the BOC took potshots at the firm and its downtown site recommendation.
Nor was this meeting really necessary to enlighten the BOC. Various representatives of the courthouse committee have presented the case for a downtown site to that board and all the BOC members have a copy of the Leo Daly plan as outlined in a final report.
So there was no real reason for the firm to do a dog-and-pony show for the BOC.... except for the political considerations, which in this courthouse issue seem to dominate the debate.
No doubt the BOC will attempt to portray Leo Daly’s absence for its own political purposes.
“Look here,” the board will say. “We gave this firm the chance to speak their mind and they refused to do so! Ain’t that a shame!”
The BOC has that right, but from purely a political consideration, we’d like to have seen Leo Daly show up for a BOC meeting. While the outcome of such a meeting would not have changed either side’s opinion, it might have been useful for the public to weigh two very different ideas of what should be done about a new courthouse.
The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle of those two views, but it never hurts to hear what all sides have to say.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
April 10, 2002

Thinking about new roads to courthouse
Ponder, for a moment, those roads. You know the roads I’m talking about, the two the Jackson County Board of Commissioners say it’s going to build for access to a new courthouse on Darnell Road.
But it’s more than just that. Just about every member of the BOC has said that the two roads, one called an “airport connector” and the other an “East Jefferson bypass,” would be built even if the courthouse was not put on Darnell Road.
Really? Is this board really committed to spending millions of taxpayer dollars to build these roads even if there is no courthouse to connect with?
Hmmmmm. Maybe it’s just my natural cynical nature, but something just isn’t right about these plans. They don’t pass the taxpayer “sniff test” that should be applied to major public works projects.
No one would argue that surface transportation isn’t important in Jackson County. Indeed, roads and various road projects are vitally important to Jackson County’s future.
Just look at the various projects already in progress, or on the drawing board. The North-South bypass around Jefferson is moving along at a rapid rate and couldn’t open soon enough for many of us. The heavy truck and UGA-related traffic between I-85 and Athens via Hwy. 129 creates a huge bottleneck in Jefferson. Any objective study of this traffic pattern will show that it isn’t local traffic that’s a problem, but flow-through traffic that is a burden. In the coming years, the entire route between I-85 and Athens along Hwy. 129 is scheduled to be widened.
In North Jackson, there’s the Pendergrass by-pass under construction, part of an overall plan to have a quicker connection between Gainesville and I-85.
And in East Jackson, the Hwy. 441 widening project is still underway from I-85 toward Athens.
In addition to these projects, a couple of others are being talked about. One is to create additional interchanges in the West Jackson Area so that commuters living in Jackson County all won’t have to access I-85 at the Braselton interchange ramps. Without another big interchange, traffic at Braselton will soon look like the mess from down the road at Hamilton Mill in Gwinnett County.
On top of that, there is some speculation that the North-South Hwy. 53 in West Jackson will be widened and a bypass created around Braselton and Hoschton. That’s a logical step to create better access from both southern Hall County and Barrow County to I-85.
All of those are needed projects and they share one thing in common: They create better North-South access toward I-85 from the surrounding area.
Now compare those projects to the ones proposed by the Jackson County BOC. Without the courthouse being put on Darnell Road, is there any justifiable reason to build the “airport connector” or the “East Jefferson bypass?”
The justification being touted for the “airport connector” is that it would create a growth corridor from I-85 to the county airport. That’s potentially true, IF the state decides to pump millions of dollars into expanding the county airport to serve as a regional facility for business jet traffic. But unless the county has some kind of secret plan to make the airport a major facility in Northeast Georgia, such a connector doesn’t make sense. Small airports don’t generate business and industrial growth alone. They may be one part of the development “pie,” but small airports generally don’t carry the weight of growth in a community.
The proposed “East Jefferson bypass” is even more problematic. While we’re all open to ideas about solving local traffic issues, how would this road help? How many people from South Jackson going North on Hwy. 129 would turn off on this bypass to access the Brockton Road or Hwy. 11? On the other end, how many people from the Harrisburg area would use this corridor to zip down to Brockton or Hwy. 129?
If there are any traffic studies that purport to show the benefit of this route, I haven’t seen them. But my gut instinct tells me that such a connection would not address the major North-South traffic pattern evident in the Jefferson area.
So for traffic reasons alone, these two proposed roads don’t make much sense. But if you are a politician, perhaps they do make sense politically — as a way to create an industrial development corridor outside the service area of the City of Jefferson. Currently, the hottest development area for business in Jackson County is in the City of Jefferson because Jefferson has infrastructure along I-85.
Some county leaders are intensely jealous of this and would love nothing more than to have their own corridor for development. It’d be a feather in their caps, a way to “get in the game” of local power brokering. They can’t do it right now because Jefferson has all the major routes and infrastructure under its wings.
So the only way for the BOC to compete with Jefferson is to find its own corridor. Build the roads. Put in the water and sewer. Create a route not for traffic, but rather for all those businesses and industries looking at Jackson County. In the process, go into competition with the City of Jefferson and fight over future industrial growth projects.
One could argue, of course, that given the amount of available land along I-85 and around the new Jefferson bypass, it’d be a long time before this county-corridor would see much business development. That, and intense opposition from Harrisburg and Brockton Road residents to commercial projects in their backyard would likely make these roads a boondoggle until about the year 2110.
No matter. It’s a game, one that is being played by BOC members who have strong ties to the development community and who think they can wheel-and-deal to make this pet project work.
So maybe we’ve had this courthouse situation wrong all along.
Maybe the BOC’s isn’t wanting to build roads to service a new courthouse, but rather to build a new courthouse to justify these roads.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at editor@mainstreetnews.com.


Editorial
The Commerce News
April 10, 2002

Enforcement Of Laws, Ordinances Appreciated
Commerce taxpayers – at least those who pay their taxes – will be happy to see their city government taking action against those who do not pay their taxes. On Monday night, the council agreed to begin work collecting delinquent taxes dating back to 1995 and to cite business owners who have not bought licenses for 2002.
That is not all. The city is also enforcing its cleanliness of premises ordinance and its minimum housing code. It will soon have an ordinance to keep people from parking heavy commercial trucks in residential neighborhoods where they are not only unsightly, but where they also damage streets.
The U.S. Constitution proposes "equal protection under the law" and that is the theory with every level of government right down to small-town Commerce. What is fair for one group of citizens is fair for all; laws, ordinances and licenses should be equally applied. Enforcement makes that happen.
Enforcement is crucial because in any group of people, there is a majority that will do what it is supposed to do without complaint or delay, but there is always another group that will delay or just plain refuse to comply until it is forced to by the governing authority. Thus, there are citizens who do not pay taxes until threatened with having their property sold, people who will let their property deteriorate and become a health hazard until forced to maintain it, merchants who won't buy a license until they are hauled into court and fined and residents who will do things on their property to the detriment of their neighbors.
Laws are made to require people to meet minimum standards as good neighbors and citizens and if they are not enforced against those who ignore them, rules and regulations become useless. Fair and consistent enforcement is a hallmark of a strong and progressive community.
Rules and regulations, laws, ordinances and policies are not always appreciated, but they are enacted for the overall good. A community where they are not equally enforced is worse than a community with no standards at all. Let those who do not comply suffer the consequences. Fair enforcement is welcome in Commerce.

Reapportionment Lesson
It would be nice to think that a federal court’s rejection of the Georgia Senate redistricting map would end the tradition of gerrymandering for the purpose of holding political power, but we’re not that naive. In theory, reapportionment is done every 10 years to assure citizens of equal representation in government, but on the state level the practice is entirely designed to acquire or maintain political power.
The federal courts have affirmed what everyone knew; that Georgia’s Democrats were a little too enthusiastic in their efforts to retain control of the General Assembly by diluting Republican strength. And while the Republicans can (and did) rightly claim foul, they anxiously await the day when they’ll get to draw district lines to the detriment of the Democrats – as Republicans in Republican-held states have done.
It will be interesting to see what the Democratic leadership comes up with – how little it can change the maps to win court approval. Actually, reapportionment isn’t that difficult if the idea is to make sure voters get equal representation; it’s a matter of trying to keep the numbers balanced while splitting as few counties and districts as possible.
Kudos to the courts for reminding the Democrats that reapportionment is for the voters, not the politicians. We would like to think that both Democrats and Republicans in Georgia will take that message to heart, but we’ll probably have to be content with the judicial slap on the hands.


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