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Public health and the power plant: neighbors worried; EPD, GRP, local leaders weigh in

Mac and Cheryl Adams can see the new biomass power plant from their house on Zetta Lee Johnson Road in Colbert. They can hear it. And they can smell it.

It’s the smelling that most concerns them. There’s frequent smoke. They can see particles in the air at night through a flashlight beam. They see the stockpiles of railroad ties, which Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) burns to generate electricity, and they worry that burning such ties, treated with creosote, a wood preservative, will harm them. They don’t know exactly what they’re breathing in, but they know it’s something. And they don’t think it seems good at all.

Mac Adams said his wife is suffering physically from the smoke and that her nose, eyes and throat burn. He said she never had issues prior to the plant opening.

“It’s like an allergic reaction,” he said.

He said the smoke is intense at times.

“She took a wet white sock and walked through the yard, and you could see the soot on it,” he said.

Others near the Adams family are expressing the same concerns.

“It is 12:44 a.m. Oct. 2 and again I have been awakened by a loud noise from the biomass plant (GRP) on the HV Chandler Road,” wrote Ted Fowler of Colbert in an email. “I went outside with my flashlight and could see particles in the air through the beam of the flashlight and could smell a strange smell. Not only could this be harmful to humans, there are animals that are breathing whatever this is.”

Angela Muffley, who lives .9 miles from the plant, said she worries what the facility means for her children.

“We worry about our two sons' health,” she said. “One child has asthma and we worry about the air pollution and water safety…. I would like to know what the actual risk to our health is with this plant being located in Madison County, especially those of us who live so close.”

A TALE OF TWO PERSPECTIVES

The new GRP plant in Colbert is a tale of two perspectives in Madison County: money and health. In terms of money, GRP is a new, major business in a rural county long-starved for new commercial tax dollars. For decades, county leaders have preached about the need to boost the county’s struggling commercial base to offset the financial burden on property taxpayers.

GRP is now a major tax contributor to Madison County. And county commissioners were able to pass the 2020 budget recently with a projected year-end cash reserve for the first time in years, thanks to the “GRP bump” — $1.66 million split between the county government, school system and industrial authority. The county also ran a 12-inch, 12-mile water line down Hwy. 72 from Elbert County to the plant at a cost of roughly $4.7 million, but the county received $2 million in grants and will use water sales revenue from GRP to pay back a loan for the line. GRP also deeded a three-million gallon water tank, valued at $1 million, to the county.

(For a question-and-answer interview with GRP plant manager David Groves, scroll to the bottom of this story.)

County leaders have voiced great satisfaction in seeing this come together with GRP. The Hwy. 72 line represents a major new infrastructure asset for the county, since it provides a stable new water source that can improve fire protection and be spread to other parts of the county. The line is also seen as a way to boost industrial growth along Hwy. 72, which is designated as the county’s “industrial growth corridor.”

The financial picture is the focus of leaders who helped make the project happen. But money isn’t the focus of those living close to the plant. Health of their families — that’s much more important to them. They want to know: “Will this power plant harm us?”

PERMIT CHANGES ALLOW BURNING OF TIES

The question of environmental safety is the business of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), whose online documents show a permit change for GRP that opens the door for burning creosote-treated railroad ties, which were once a prohibited fuel source.

The EPD reports that “creosote treated railroad ties means railway support ties treated with a wood preservative containing creosols and phenols and made from coal tar oil.”

Such a fuel source was not initially in the plans for GRP, which was first issued a permit by the EPD in October 2015 to construct an electric power-generating facility in Colbert. According to EPD permitting documents found on its website, the facility was originally permitted as a “700 MMBtu/hr. stoker boiler burning clean cellulosic biomass with natural gas for startup and bed stabilization only.”

GRP officials met with local leaders in 2017 to give an overview of plans for biomass power plants in Colbert and Carnesville. The company said the facilities wouldn’t have emissions other than steam. No treated wood would be burned, they said.

Dave Shaffer, chief operating officer and president of Georgia Renewable Power LLC, spoke at a luncheon in Carnesville with area leaders in September 2017, addressing numerous details about the plant. He said the plant would produce a cloud, but when asked about emissions, he said it’s all water vapor.

“On a cool day, you’ll see a plume coming out of the top of the cooling tower,” he said at the question-and-answer session following the lunch. “But it will be dissipated within 300 feet of the cooling tower. It’s only water.”

EPD permitting documents show that emissions aren’t just steam and include particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include several known pollutants, such as benzene, acrolein, chromium and formaldehyde.

Initial GRP emission projections were modified after federal regulators relaxed rules on burning chemically treated railroad ties. Those wooden ties are treated with preservatives to help them hold up under the weather. The railroad ties are also periodically replaced. Now, the old ties are an acceptable fuel source for biomass plants, such as GRP.

This is possible because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed federal guidelines in February 2018 to allow “other-treated railroad ties” to be used as fuel. This opened the door for biomass facilities to burn “creosote-borate treated railroad ties,” “copper naphthenate-treated railroad ties” and “copper naphthenate-borate treated railroad ties.” These railroad ties are now classified as “Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials (NHSM)” according to the EPA.

GRP now has railroad ties on site to burn. And while there are no restrictions in Georgia on citizens using railroad ties for landscaping purposes, it’s against the law for a citizen to burn a railroad tie, due to its chemical composition and citizens’ lack of emission control equipment.

“We are not aware of any restrictions on railroad ties for landscape purposes,” said EPD communications director Kevin Chambers. “Citizens are not allowed to burn ties. EPA rules allow the burning of ties in boilers with emission controls designed for this purpose.”

Eric Cornwell, manager of the Stationary Source Permitting Program of the EPD’s Air Protection Branch, summarized GRP’s permitting as follows:

“In summary – they can burn clean cellulosic biomass as defined by federal regulation, and railroad ties, as recently permitted due to changes to the federal statutes governing fuel burning. They cannot burn chicken litter or pressure treated wood.”

LITTLE PUBLIC NOTICE OFFERED

Two permitting amendments were granted to GRP after federal regulators relaxed rules on burning railroad ties. The company received the go-ahead in July of 2018 to burn the ties. GRP then received an “expedited application” on March 1, 2019 to update the size of support equipment, to “add a new belt dryer to dry wood chips prior to combustion in the boiler” and to “add other-treated railroad ties” to the list of fuels that can be burned in the boiler.

According to EPD documents: “GRP Madison Renewable Energy was notified on March, 4, 2019, that they were accepted into the Expedited Permitting Program. GRP Madison Renewable Energy accepted the invitation into the program the same day. A check for the expedited permit fee cleared the lockbox on March 14, 2019. A public advisory was issued on March 6, 2019, and expired on April 5, 2019. No comments were received.”

There wasn’t much awareness that such changes were taking place. No public hearings were held in the county related to the allowance of railroad ties as a fuel source. State law didn’t require the company to advertise the permitting change in the county’s legal organ. And the law doesn’t mandate that those living in close proximity be notified of such a change.

Meanwhile, the EPD online permitting documents don’t show much guidance on what the company must do with the ties. The state stipulates that GRP must take the metal off the ties before burning them.

“Prior to burning creosote-treated railroad ties in the boiler, the railroad ties shall be processed by, at a minimum, metal removal and shedding or grinding,” according to EPD documents.

In addition to wood, the EPD also allows the burning of “distillate fuel oil” at the biomass facility, but the fuel cannot have more than .3 percent sulfur composition and the company cannot burn more than 4.38 million gallons in a year.

EPD REQUIRES EMISSIONS REPORTS

The EPD requires that emissions be reported by the company twice a year by Jan. 30 and July 30. GRP must also conduct initial emission performance tests within 180 days of the startup of the plant’s boiler and its belt dryer.

Chambers said there are no firm emissions numbers at this point.

“The facility is still working through its initial startup sequence, so we don’t have emissions tests or reports yet,” he said.

But EPD permitting documents include estimates on emissions, with a chart showing “potential emissions” and “actual emissions” in tons of pollutants per year. This is broken down in “before” and “after” modifications — the primary change being the addition of railroad ties as a fuel source. All but one of the anticipated emission categories remained the same “before” and “after” modifications. For instance, potential emissions of particulate matter (PM) are 93.6 tons before and after modifications. The same is true for carbon monoxide (CO), 249 tons; sulfur dioxide (SO2), 101.5 tons; and nitrogen oxide (NOX) at 249 tons.

However, the “before” and “after” for emissions after modifications (including the addition of railroad ties as a fuel source) are significantly different in one emission category — volatile organic compounds (VOC). The EPD’s “toxic impact assessment” showed which VOCs would be most prevalent in emissions over a year. Acrolein was estimated at 22 percent, chromium at just under 19 percent, benzene at 16 percent and formaldehyde at 13.5 percent.

EPD documents available:

Want to review documents referenced in this story?

To see online permitting documents related to GRP, visit https://permitsearch.gaepd.org, go to “facility name,” then type in GRP. The Madison County facility will appear in the scroll-down section.

WHAT DO LOCAL LEADERS SAY?

County commission chairman John Scarborough noted that the initial plans for the GRP facility didn’t include railroad ties, but he said he can’t fault the company for doing what federal law allows.

“I do not believe GRP is at fault for using these products as fuel as they are currently approved to do so,” wrote Scarborough in an emailed response to Journal questions. “I do not believe the amount of this type of product will comprise an appreciable portion of the total wood product used by GRP. While I understand EPD will monitor air quality along with many other standards, it is my hope GRP will use discretion in its inclusion of these products to produce electricity.”

Derek Doster, commissioner for District 5, where the GRP facility is located, said he has been approached by concerned citizens in his district. He said he’s had his own concerns, too. He submitted questions to the EPD regarding the railroad crossties and reviewed online permitting documents for GRP.

“As I researched GRP's permits, it became clear and EPD confirmed that GRP requested a change in the fuel source which was allowed after changes were made to the Federal Code of Regulations that dictate these parameters,” wrote Doster in an emailed response to this paper. “While it raises concerns, in my opinion, it was not done underhanded or outside the normal course of protocol as required by state EPD.”

However, Doster said he didn’t think the EPD’s assertion that “no comments” were received from the public could was accurate since the matter wasn’t advertised in the legal organ.

“I was in disagreement with EPD stating no comments were received since no advertisement was required in the local legal organ,” said Doster, who suggested everyone who wants to get updates on air permits visit the EPD website.

Doster added that he thinks “it’s important to note that the permit allowing the railroad ties as fuel stock limits the use of the railroad ties to approximately 20 percent by volume to maintain the permitted emissions limits.”

It's my understanding that the remaining portion of fuel must be clean biomass fuel that everyone expected to be part of the plant's fuel stock,” wrote Doster. “I would encourage everyone to review the permits on line to educate themselves as well. I'm sensitive to the use and am concerned on the creosote railroad ties, but I, like many others, need to expect staff members at EPD and EPA to be competent in their area of expertise.”

Frank Ginn, who serves as District 47 State Senator and Executive Director of the Madison County Industrial Development and Building Authority, said he sees many benefits to having GRP in the county.

“I’m proud to have GRP in our area and I think it’s a big win for us,” he said.

Ginn sees the GRP issue as a “matter of perspective.”

“There’s positives and negatives to anything that happens,” said Ginn. “To me, it’s a perspective issue.”

He cites the tax revenues, the jobs created, the potential for more business development and the boost to the county water system as major pluses for Madison County.

“The county really needed a large water customer to accelerate that growth of the water system,” said Ginn.

Ginn was asked if he would have concerns if he lived a half a mile from the plant.

“Health concerns?” he asked. “Not at all. I don’t have any concern at all on the health side of things. We’ve heard about the noise associated with the plant. I live close to the Transco pumping station. It’s a noise I’ve known and grown up with all my life. It’s one of those things. Transco is another large taxpayer in the county. Any business is going to have things you wish you could totally eliminate, whether it’s noise or truck traffic, or whatever is happening.”

Ginn asked: “What happens to the crossties if you don’t use them for that (a fuel source)?”

“What little I know about VOCs is a sitting crosstie would be emitting VOCs in itself, like a sitting can of charcoal starter or oil-based paint has certain VOCs it’s going to emit,” said Ginn. “My question is, have we changed anything from them sitting somewhere versus OK, now we’re going to use them as a fuel source and get rid of them? And we could clean that air in the process. What’s the difference? I don’t know. Those are things that to me, I’d love to know, because if I look at it and I see filling your car with gas, there is a certain amount of VOCs that are coming from doing that.”

Ginn said he feels confident in state oversight of the facility.

“On the regulatory side of things, whatever they do has to meet EPD’s requirements,” he said. “EPD is going to make sure they’re environmentally safe.”

WAIT-AND-SEE MODE FOR PLANT NEIGHBORS

Angela Muffley said her real estate brother in Atlanta has informed her that her property value has already decreased. She worries for her family. She’s a therapist. And she sees anxiety in her home.

“I am worried constantly about my children's health — cancer/asthma/safe drinking water,” she said. “The health implications have caused us to purchase water for drinking, being outside less, shutting windows. I work from home often typing evaluations etc., and have started commuting due to my anxiety in an effort to not hear the humming constantly. I worry about our future financial planning, as we were relying on our house selling and equity for part of our retirement plan. We might have to change our plans and have less retirement income and sell the home and take a loss.”

Muffley doesn’t know what’s coming, but she can identify some wants.

“I would like the noise to be reduced,” she said. “I would like information to come from a neutral but reliable source. I would like to have our water tested frequently by someone neutral. I would like to know the risk and what is actually being emitted in the air. Articles say ‘steam,’ but I am clearly having an Erin Brokovich moment and doubting all information as I have seen our water be brown with grit. I have seen stains on our tub and sink (as well as my neighbor. The neighbor's cat will not drink the water when it is brown). I have seen ‘dark’ steam. The noise causes a lot of distress and having it reduced/diminished would greatly reduce my anxiety. I moved to the country to have peace and quiet. When we moved into our home there was an active industrial plant, but there was no noise. We were not made aware there would be noise.”

Mac Adams said he is angry.

“I feel betrayed by the county government and I’m angry with Frank Ginn,” he said.

Adams said GRP located in Madison County because the property was already zoned industrial and didn’t need to go before commissioners for a rezoning. No hearings were needed to put the power plant where it’s located. He said he is angry that there was no notification about the permitting change. And he said he intends to approach tax appraisers to revaluate his property, saying “there’s no way” it could sell for what its current listed value.

Gina Ward said her family moved from the Atlanta area and the country life was worth it.

“Instead of enhancing the interior of our home, we chose to spend our time outside, using what nature has provided to create a park-like setting for our family and friends to enjoy,” she said. “A bad day can quickly fade away by sitting next to the creek and listening to the sounds of nature. The song of the whippoorwill is my favorite. For the last 11 years, our home in the woods has been that sanctuary.”

But the power plant changed the family’s feelings about their home.

“When the power plant started up it was as if a monster had been dropped on our doorstep,” said Ward. “Our quality of life has been shattered. Fall is the time of year we open all the windows and take a break on the power bill. This year we opened our windows, thinking it wouldn’t be so bad, but the noise is just too intrusive. Last week at a family dinner we had the windows open, and just as the blessing was being said, that ‘monster’ started grinding. Needless to say, we probably weren’t as thankful as we should have been. Since that night, we have closed our windows and turned the air back on. Additionally, our sleep is disrupted on a regular basis because it gets louder at night and the noise levels seem to pulse.”

Ted Fowler said the noise gets to him. He and other residents around the plant use a decibel reader regularly. He said the noise “reached 80 decibels” at one point.

“The noise has awakened us at night when they are doing some sort of venting which produces particles in the air which you can see when shining a light,” he said. “We are also concerned about all the railroad crossties they are grinding up and burning with the wood chips.”

He said the plant smells terrible and his wife drove by it, feeling sick.

“What is going in our air from this?” asked Fowler. “Is our water being polluted also? We feel we are just in a wait-and-see mode right now.”

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS WITH THE GRP PLANT MANAGER

David Groves of Veolia Energy manages GRP plants in Colbert and Carnesville. He responded to the following questions from The Madison County Journal this week about the plant in Madison County. Here is that interview:

•Where is GRP in terms of its production flow right now? Is the Colbert plant operating at 100 percent? If not, when do you anticipate it being fully operational?

The Madison plant is currently off line but is expected to resume production Thursday. Start up and commissioning are in progress with various testing, repairs, improvements and equipment tuning being made. Our latest schedule has the plant executing a performance test in conjunction with the site general contractor and performing a required seven-day voltage test with Georgia Power next week. The Madison plant had its initial RATA (Relative Accuracy Test Audits) on the installed CEMS (Continuous Emissions Monitor System) for fluegas last week. This is the flue gas analyzer system that continuously (24/7) monitors the flue gases for to ensure compliance with the air permit. The GA EPD Air Branch witnessed this testing at the plant site last week. The testing appeared to go very well and all indications are that the plant CEMS equipment easily passed but the official report has not yet been received. The testing contractor utilized for the RATA was Air Hygiene Stack and Emissions Testing, Inc. Air Hygiene is accredited to ASTM D7036 (Standard Practice for Competence of Air Emission Testing bodies) standards.

•How many tons of railroad ties do you anticipate using annually?

At this time we do not know. We are not certain as to the amount of ties that will be available or that can be efficiently processed (chipped, metal removed, etc.)

•What percentage of your wood burnt annually will be railroad ties?

At this time we do not know (please see above)

•Could the plant operate efficiently off 100-percent untreated wood? Can you speak about the need to use this material and not exclusively untreated wood?

We believe that the recycling of rail ties into energy is a very good and environmentally friendly use of a material that otherwise would be going into landfills. Rail cross ties were added to the NHSM (Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials) under a final federal EPA rule in February, 2016. In this rule the EPA determined that creosote-borate and certain other railroad ties when combusted in a biomass unit (such as the Madison facility) are defined as non-waste fuels that can be safely burned. This is listed in 40 CFR section 241.4(a). Combusting used railroad crossties in a controlled environment with a state of the art emissions program is proven to be better for the environment than stacking the ties on the side of tracks or in landfills.

•Where do you get the ties and how often are they received?

Georgia Renewable Power has signed an agreement with a long-time fuel provider throughout the southeast that has had history of providing used railroad ties to over 14 boilers and power plants across the southeast. They will be received several times per week by rail and stored on the rail or in the facility.

•Where are railroad ties being stored on site? What steps does GRP take to make sure water from the ties doesn’t find its way into area groundwater?

A relatively small amount of preprocessed ties will be stored on site prior to processing. Filtering material is being installed to prevent any material from entering any site drainage. Once processed the chipped material will be stored with the wood fuel will it will be processed into energy within days of being processed. GRP’s crosstie provider has received a storm water permit from the EPD with measures taken to ensure processed ties are stored correctly. It is very unlikely that processed ties will be on the ground, as they are chipped and placed directly into the back of trucks.

•How are railroad ties processed before they are burned? Is the creosote removed prior to being used? If so, who does this and what is done with the creosote?

The ties that are received are 25 years old. They are being replaced by the railroads. Some of the ties are sold to retailers for residential uses such as landscape timbers. The remaining ties have their metal removed and are ground/chipped into fuel. The majority of the creosote has dissipated. For example, in the state of North Carolina each tie is considered 94 percent renewable with only six percent of the original creosote remaining. What little creosote remains is destroyed in the combustion process under the extreme heat that is generated.

•Can you explain how toxins are controlled in your burn process? What is done to limit harmful emissions and how are emissions tested? The EPD lists VOCs as increasing roughly four-fold after the modifications in the permit (which include the creosote railroad ties). Do you see this as accurate?

The fuel in the furnace is combusted under extreme heat which destroy most if not all contaminants. The plant has been permitted under the most recent EPA regulations, etc. and the facility by permit must follow section 112 of the Clean Air Act. This is commonly called HAPs or hazardous air pollutants. This is a list of toxic air pollutants that are known to cause cancer and have other serious health impacts and the plant is tightly regulated in regards to these within the GA EPD issued air permit.

•Residents in the area have said they smell smoke and they voice serious concerns over the effect on their health? What would you like to say to those who are concerned about how the plant might affect their health?

During start up and commissioning many systems etc. are being tuned and tested. We are not certain if this caused the smell that you describe but once commercial steady state operation is underway there should be no smells or other health-related concerns from the facility. The EPD regulates this per the CEMS system mentioned earlier.

•Can you address the noise from the plant? Residents around the facility say it’s a nuisance. Are there any plans for noise mitigation? Can you explain why sometimes it’s louder than other times?

During start up and commissioning the plant has been louder at times than it normally will be. This was particularly the case when the plant was performing steam blows and when placing the turbine online. We apologize for the inconvenience of this. A far field sound survey is going to be performed on the plant perimeter and if readings are unacceptable then noise remediation efforts will be made. Early indications show that the plant is compliant with all local, state and federal regulations. However, GRP understands the importance to the community and will address any single point of excessive noise if it is being created within the facility.

•Do you have anything else you would like Madison County residents to know about the GRP facility?

Georgia Renewable Power and Veolia Energy are proud of these facilities. Both the Madison and Franklin plants will be a source of clean, renewable energy for years to come while providing stable employment and very good jobs and careers to local residents. While we fully support other forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, it is important to note that both of these plants will produce much-needed clean electric power continuously — even when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. At the same time as we proceed with taking over these plants from start up we plan on being good neighbors who care about and contribute to the communities that have placed their trust in us. We plan on being a part of community events and being a valued partner with our neighbors and various community agencies etc. To help keep our neighbors informed once the plants are out of start up and commissioning we plan on holding community open houses at both facilities. In the meantime, we would like to thank our neighbors and surrounding communities for their patience as we bring these two highly efficient, environmentally compliant and world-class facilities online.


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Danielsville to meet with county, school officials Friday about sewer needs

As the school system’s student rosters grow, county offices expand and new businesses and new housing go up in the county seat, the small sewer system that services it all is struggling.

That’s not news.

Danielsville officials have been saying this for some time and have repeatedly asked the county for help, specifically by allocating more SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds for the city’s infrastructure, citing the many tax-exempt government entities it provides services to.

“We have been repeatedly told we needed to seek grants and loans,” Higdon told the council at its business meeting Monday night. “Well we have been working on that.”

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) officials told Mayor Todd Hidgon and City Clerk Susan Payne a couple of weeks ago that they would not be able to obtain a government loan with the current revenue they have coming in from sewer customers.

With this information in hand, the city plans to make their case for a “partnership” going forward on upgrades to the city’s sewer system.

They have called for a meeting with county, school and industrial authority officials Friday morning at 10 a.m. in the industrial authority boardroom in the historic courthouse.

Also on hand will be Jack Stanek, the USDA’s Director of Community Programs, who will provide information on the grant/loan application process and where Danielsville stands.

Higdon said Stanek told he and Payne at their meeting that he could see that the city badly needed the financial help and that he was “frankly shocked” that they were a standalone entity with the sewer system considering their situation with government entities within the city.

Higdon said Stanek told them “I see your need, see your assets and your users” and that as things stand there is “no way possible to put a loan through” because they don’t have enough people (or entities) paying enough in fees to repay such a loan and suggested that they meet with local government officials again.

“They (USDA) has looked at the city ‘inside and out’ and understand what we have and what needs to be done,” Higdon said. “…What (Stanek) told us was a factual statement that proves the city is not ‘crying wolf’ about what we face. They can see that we have a legitimate cause here.”

Payne supplied figures to the council that averaged usage among all of Danielsville’s water customers over the previous 12 months (through the end of September). Of the 12.5 million gallons on average taken into the system annually, 59 percent of the waste came from county and school entities within the city. These include such facilities as the jail, schools and school board offices, the government complex and others. The remaining 41 percent came from city residents and small businesses.

“Everybody has got to work together to make the sewer system work,” Higdon said.

If the city cannot get help through SPLOST funding, they will likely be forced to increase the sewer rate of “high users,” which consist of these same government customers.

As an example, Higdon said a high user that has a $4,000 monthly sewer bill now could see their monthly rate triple or even quadruple over the next few years in order to bring in enough for the sewer system to keep up.

“That will have a direct and significant effect on the budgets of the county and the school system,” Payne added.

Higdon stressed that the city is simply trying to present the facts at the Friday meeting, not take an adversarial stance.

“We don’t want to raise rates,” Higdon said. “We simply want to give those involved a heads up on how things are looking.”

Higdon said that as his term as mayor ends at the end of the year, he does not want to leave office without everyone, including those coming into office, having an idea of what’s coming up over the next few years.

“I have exhausted my efforts over the last six years to explain this,” he said. “It has come down to some budgeting concerns for all of us.”

And he said he feels this is probably the single most important meeting the county has had in several years.

“The key to county growth is infrastructure,” Higdon said. “That’s what we’re working toward here.”

Higdon said he realizes the city is going to “walk out of there the bad guy.”

“The one asking for something always does,” he said.

POLICE DEPARTMENT

In other business Monday night, the council held a closed session to discuss a resignation from police officer Megan Powell and agreed to accept her resignation, effective immediately. Payne said Powell cited the need to spend more time with her child as a reason for her resignation.

The council plans to discuss the vacancy in the department at their work session later this month and decide whether to go ahead and advertise for another officer or wait until the first of the year to do so.

Police Chief Jonathan Burnette told the council the department has been seeing a number of posts on social media sites, particularly Facebook’s “rants and raves” containing complaints ranging from city ordinance violations to traffic citations.

Mayor Higdon noted that many of the posts also contained support for the police department.

While Burnette said he did not plan to defend his officers or the department on social media, he did plan to make a one-time statement about the matter. He said he felt it was important for him as the leader, to stand up for his department.

Part of his statement reads: “While it is easy to criticize our profession from behind a keyboard, it is apparently harder to address it the correct way. I have looked into each incident for which grievances have been aired on a social media platform. In each instance, my officers were in the performance of their everyday duties to which I observed no callus actions on their parts. I have not been approached by any of the authors of these posts so that I may address their concerns appropriately. Each post that was made lacked credibility.”

He went on to mention programs which the department is involved in such as child safety seat checks and Operation Backpack, which collects school supplies for needy children throughout the year.

He stressed that the department has an “open-door policy” to address concerns as long as they are brought to them in person.


Early voting underway in Madison Co.

The November 2019 ballot may just be a warmup for next year’s elections, but there are significant issues for Madison County voters to consider Nov. 5 — or now, for that matter.

Early voting opened Monday and local voters can now offer a “Yes” or “No” on two countywide issues — renewal of the one-cent sales tax for local improvement projects and a referendum on allowing Sunday alcohol sales in the county between 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

All early voting takes place at the Board of Elections Office, 94 Spring Lake Drive, Danielsville. Voters should bring their picture ID to vote. Registered voters can also request an absentee ballot. Voters will need to ask for an absentee ballot in writing. They can call the elections office or email Tracy Dean at tdean@madisonco.us and she will mail them an application that they complete and mail, email or fax it back to the office. Once the application is verified, Dean will mail their ballot to them. Voters don’t have to give a reason to vote by absentee ballot. There is no Saturday voting in this election. For more information, call the Board of Elections Office at 706-795-6335.

The primary issue on the November ballot is the renewal of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which is projected to bring in approximately $13,312,095 for the purpose of providing funds to pay the costs of capital outlay projects through an intergovernmental agreement between the county and the cities. The tax is not new, but the continuation of a one-cent tax that has been in renewed every five to six years for decades.

If renewed, the lion’s share of county funds will go to the road department in the amount of $5,455,000 spread out over the six-year period. Other recipients of SPLOST funding in the county include volunteer fire departments ($1,455,000) the sheriff’s office ($885,000), recreation department ($365,000), E-911 upgrades ($905,000), EMS ($715,000), Industrial Development Authority ($1,620,000), historic courthouse restoration ($50,000), coroner’s office ($60,000) and facilities acquisition and improvement ($190,000).

The city portions are determined by population, based on the 2010 Census. Each of the cities have pledged to use the funds for improvements to city water, roads, bridges and streets. Comer and Danielsville have allocated some funds for their sewer systems.

County commission chairman John Scarborough said the tax is a fair way to generate revenues for the county.

“When goods and services are purchased in Madison County, by local residents or anyone passing through our county, the one cent tax that you approve in November will go toward improving efforts in the road department, law enforcement, emergency medical services, fire and rescue service….without any additional burden on property owners,” he said. “It is important to remember this tax is not in addition to the current SPLOST, it simply continues that benefit to the county for six more years after the current SPLOST expires next June. Please make every effort to vote, and please support the 2020 SPLOST referendum on the November ballot.”

COMER BALLOT

The City of Comer has the county’s lone contested municipal election Nov. 5. Tommy R. Appling and Laura Minish are challenging incumbent Howard Threlkeld for the District 3 seat on the city council. The town is also holding a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales within city limits between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.