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Proposed train route would go through Barrow, Jackson and Madison counties

An initial environmental study of a proposed high-speed passenger train from Atlanta to Charlotte chose the most southern route for the train, the Greenfield Alternative, a route that would take the train through Madison, Jackson and Barrow counties in northeast Georgia.

That route, if it is eventually approved, would take the train south of Royston into Madison County, south of Danielsville and into Athens. From there, the route would go through a part of western Jackson County and eastern Barrow County to approach Atlanta.

The Tier 1 environmental impact report for the project was released July 9.

The exact approach from Athens to Atlanta is being deferred for further study, the study said.

Two ideas in the study suggested the train leave Athens and run through West Jackson and the Braselton-Hoschton area to Suwanee. The other idea would be for the train to run through a smaller part of southwestern Jackson County and part of Barrow County to Lawrenceville.

No stations are proposed for Jackson, Barrow or Madison counties, but a station is proposed for Athens.

The Greenfield route was one of three proposed routes considered in the report. One of the rejected routes would have had the train follow I-85 all the way through Jackson County with a station in Commerce. That route was rejected, in part, because of the high cost.

The Greenfield route has the potential for the highest speed, up to 220 mph, the study said. That's because of the geography of that route is more gentle than the other alternatives. The Greenfield route would also allow for more trips, the study said.

"GDOT determined that the Greenfield Corridor Alternative would support the most round-trip frequencies among the Corridor Alternatives and, therefore, would generate the highest ridership," said the report.

The proposed Atlanta-Charlotte train is part of a larger rail development project dating to 1992 to connect Washington D.C. into the Southeast.

The cost is expected to be between $6.4 and $8.4 billion.

Thousands of birthday wishes
Thousands of Birthday Wishes: Local mom’s online request for daughter’s birthday goes viral

A Hoschton girl is celebrating her birthday with thousands of people across the world.

Jordan Little, who turns 9 years old this month, has received countless birthday cards and gifts after her mom, Jessica, posted a TikTok video that went viral.

In the viral video, Jessica asked viewers to send in birthday cards for Jordan. The response was overwhelming.

“We’ve opened roughly 2,000 packages,” said Jessica. “…We’re thinking we have around 12,000 cards to open. We’ve maybe opened 1,500 so far.”

By Monday afternoon, July 12, the family estimated they'd received 20,000 cards.


Jordan has always loved checking the mail and likes to look through the different letters delivered to their family.

Her mom recalls her saying, "one day, someone’s going to send me something."

Jessica decided to record a video of Jordan checking the mail one day, then she posted it on Facebook to see if family and friends would send cards throughout the month of July. She later posted it on TikTok, thinking she'd receive a handful of cards from viewers.

“Even if only 50 people end up doing it and she got a handful of mail every day in July, that was kind of my thought,” said Jessica. “…I was not expecting it to go viral.”

She posted the video on a Wednesday night and the next morning, the video had gotten almost 1 million views and thousands of comments.

That Friday, the family checked the post office box and they’d received four packages and a handful of mail. The next day, “everything went crazy.”

Jessica and Jordan had been sleeping in on Saturday morning when Jessica’s husband, Brandon, woke her up.

“My husband comes up at 7:45 in the morning and said, ‘um, I think you need to wake up,’” Jessica recalled.

He told her the post office had called and that they’d be at the house in 30 minutes and that they were bringing "a lot of people." Jessica hadn’t yet told Jordan about the video, so when the multiple mail trucks and vans arrived, she was shocked.

“I was still wearing my pajamas and socks,” said Jordan.

The United State Postal Service dropped off countless cards and packages mailed to Jordan. Jessica had warned the local post office branch about the potential for additional mail and she said the delivery crew was excited, hugging Jordan and wishing her a “happy birthday.” The video was also shared on a USPS Facebook page and mail staff from across the country have sent in cards.

Jordan has received parcels from residents of every state within the United States and as far away as Ireland and Switzerland.

“We’re absolutely blown away,” said Jessica. “I didn’t even have a thought in my mind that something like this would happen.”

“Thank you so much,” Jordan added.


Both Jessica and Jordan say the amount of kindness they’ve seen has been overwhelming.

“The cards have the sweetest things written in them,” said Jessica. “We definitely feel loved.”

Jessica added that people put a lot of time and effort into the letters and gifts and that some were homemade or personalized.

“There’s good people in the world, that’s for sure,” she said.

Now the Little family is looking to share the love.

“With the amount of stuff we’ve gotten, clearly she can’t keep it all,” said Jessica. “So we’re going to be doing lots of donating.”

The family recently put together a big package for a child battling leukemia in Arizona. They’re working this week to send a package to a little girl whose family that lost everything in a fire.

“We’re just going to look for anywhere and everywhere that we can spread some joy,” said Jessica.

Those who want to send packages or cards can mail them to P.O. Box 131, Hoschton, GA 30548. The family is also asking for donations in Jordan’s honor to The Hand Me Down Zoo and St. Jude’s. Those wishing to donate can do so by visiting https://linktr.ee/Jordansmiles

You can view the videos on Jessica’s TikTok account at @jordansmom86

Illegal sewage dumping a rising concern

 Jackson County Water and Sewage Authority manager Eric Klerk discussed a problem of statewide sludge dumping brought on after landfills began raising tipping fees. The higher fees were reportedly due to stricter EPA restrictions and rising fuel costs.

As a result, some municipalities and private companies resorted to illegally dumping sewage into random systems.

According to Klerk, JCWSA has fallen victim to such illegal dumping in some of its far-flung manholes, a situation that greatly increases the county's sewerage plant’s load and creates other problems.

“We’re fortunate we have a huge basin that is less susceptible to shock loadings; if we had a smaller basin, it would be causing us some serious problems right now,” said Klerk.


Also during its July 8 meeting, JCWSA associate engineer Nathan Hester provided an engineering projects update including details on the Doster Creek interceptor and Bear Creek Dam water line projects, among several others. Hester also provided projections on items in its queue for years to come.

Doster Creek Interceptor Project

The Doster Creek interceptor will consist of nearly a mile of 24-inch sewer line near the intersection of Hwy.124 and Creek Nation Road in Jefferson and will eliminate the authority’s largest pump station.

With the anticipation of a lot of rock, engineers project the cost to total over $50 million, which will be funded with bond funds. The project is currently at 90 percent design completion and in acquisition of three access easements. Due to the project’s complexity and large size, the authority will be adding an additional step to its bidding process by pre-qualifying contractors allowed to bid.

According to Hester, the Doster Creek interceptor is a large and fairly complicated project.

“There’s a lot of rock, it's a flat sewer and it's large in diameter so we want to make sure we get a good contractor,” said Hester.

Bidding is anticipated to begin no later than spring of 2022.

Bear Creek Dam Water Line

The Bear Creek Dam water line will consist of 2,700 ft. of 8-inch water main across the dam for the Bear Creek Reservoir. Once complete, the water line will enable the authority to serve more customers. Currently, the authority purchases water from Barrow County in order to serve customers living on that side of the dam.

“It’s been very problematic for us over the years,” said Hester. “So we're going to put in this line and sell our own water to our own customers at that point."

The design will be atypical as the water line will cross the ridge on Savage Road and will be inside the dam itself. The project is approaching 90 percent design completion, upon which the authority will submit and set up plans with Georgia Safe Dams (GSD), a division of the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency. The official review and approval from GSD will take three months, said Hester, who wasn’t able to provide an opinion of probable cost just yet.

The anticipated bid date is January 2022.

Park Creek Dam Reservoir, Intakes and Pipelines Project

 Klerk provided updates on the work performed to date at the Park Creek Dam as well as upcoming tasks, the project’s schedule, financials and an overview of the preliminary subsurface investigation at the dam site.

So far, the authority has performed a site visit of the dam and potential water treatment location and developed a conceptual layout of a potential water treatment plant adjacent to the dam. Subsurface drilling and rock coring and a geological evaluation have also been performed.

More recently, subsurface explorations were initiated May 4, a geophysical study within reservoir limits began June 22 and test pit explorations of potential borrow areas began July 5.

A field run surveying the dam site is currently underway.

Upcoming tasks include a topographic survey of the site, a quality control review of soil test boring logs and rock cores, development of estimates of permeability for the site’s rock foundation, initial risk register for the project and a site visit to proposed river intake and pipeline route.

So far, the project financials are in good standing as the amount spent-to-date totals $129,279, which falls well below contract amounts totaling over $1 million.

The bid phase is projected to be complete September 2022, with the construction phase to follow, which is projected to be complete by the end of 2023.

Other engineering projects discussed:

• Construction has begun on SPLOST Projects at the Hwy. 129 loop, Pleasant Acres and the project at Southwest Jackson and Lewis Roberts/ Ebenezer loop project has just kicked off. The tank pump at Jarrett Road is next in line to begin construction.

• The water resource master plan from 2009 is being updated with the immediate goal of choosing a future reservoir site. Three potential reservoir sites are highlighted in the master plan and under evaluation. According to Hester, all three sites are in eastern Jackson county, although the authority is still looking at several additional possibilities. The final master plan is projected to be completed in Nov. 2021

• Flow monitoring and flow forecasting methodology are completed, which showed JCWSA’s sewer system conditions are overall very good. The authority has come up with how they will forecast future flows and determined where the most growth will take place. They are currently trying to allocate their determinations to a model for future scenarios. Sewer master planning is projected to be completed Fall 2022.

• Agreed to move forward with a request from the Jackson County School System to put its logo on the water tower at Traditions of Braselton off Hwy. 124 as long as the school system agrees to cover all associated costs, which will include repainting the tower in 5-10 years. The next steps for JCWSA will be working towards a lease agreement with the school system.

School start to look more normal this year

This time last year, local school districts were discussing mask requirements, virtual learning options and possible delays in starting the school year. This school year — with COVID-19 numbers a fraction of what they were last July and easy public access to vaccines — will look different.

The Jackson County Board of Education discussed the upcoming school year during its July 12 work session.

“We’re really excited to actually start a school year,” said Todd Nickelsen, assistant superintendent for human resources and student support services.

The Center for Disease Control released new COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools on Friday, July 9, and district leadership will be meeting this week with principals to discuss the upcoming school year.

“Generally speaking, we’re still going to use caution, but we’re going to go back to school as much as normal,” said Jackson County School System superintendent April Howard.

Children under the age of 12 aren’t yet eligible to get vaccinated and Howard said they will be discussing possible mitigation strategies with elementary principals.

“We will be talking with our elementary principals about visitors and how we want to manage potential mitigation strategies,” she said. “…But generally speaking, while being safe, we’re going to return to as normal of a process as possible.”

Enrollment up

County students will return to the hallways for the first day of school on July 30. Enrollment is already up by almost 200 students.

“We’re already up over 200 folks and it’s just climbing,” said Nickelsen.

As of July 9, the district had 8,902 students enrolled in its schools, up from 8,711 at the end of 2020-21.


Other items discussed during the BOE work session included:

•the new Jackson County High School, which will open this upcoming year. District leaders are working on transportation patterns for the new school for bus and car riders. Transportation director David Farmer said busses that travel on Hwy. 124 will come in on Hwy. 332 before going onto Skelton Rd. (instead of taking Skelton Rd. directly off Hwy. 124).

•the future middle school in West Jackson on the Skelton Rd. property. District leaders have been meeting with the design team and will soon begin meeting with engineers. Ted Gilbert, assistant superintendent of operations, also asked the BOE to begin considering names for the new school.

•continuing renovation work at the Empower College and Career Center, located in the former Jackson County Comprehensive High School.

•upcoming budget hearings, set tentatively for Aug. 5 and Sept. 9, both at 6 p.m. The BOE could approve the budget and millage rate on Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. The budget won’t be finalized until the district receives the county tax digest.


Items approved by the BOE on Monday, July 12, were:

•a parental leave policy and an competitive interscholastic activities policy (that policy allows homeschool students in grades 6-12 to participate in extracurricular and interscholastic activities). The board also discussed a new teacher evaluation appeals policy and could take action on the policy in August.

•declaring several instructional and technology items surplus.

•the FY22 board training plan and FY21 board training report.

•a tower and lease agreement with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Grading has begun on the construction of Bana Road off of Hwy. 98 in Commerce. The road is designed to serve industrial development on the north side of I-85 running south from Hwy. 98. It will be a gateway to the planned Rooker industrial park that is slated to have 10 buildings totaling over 6 million square feet on 635 acres. The timeline for that development is to be built in two phases with phase 1 completed in 2024 and phase 2 to be completed in 2029.

Commerce's water, sewer systems almost at capacity

A proposal that is slated to come before the Commerce City Council July 19 would significantly hike tap fees for water and sewerage hook-ups in the city.

The move comes as a recommendation from a recent study the city commissioned, a study that indicates the town is almost at capacity with its existing water and sewerage systems.

"Existing plants, distribution and collection systems are near capacity and will require significant capital expenditures to meet new demands," the report states.

The report notes that recently-approved developments will use 100% of the capacity within the next few years. And unless the town raises its tap fees for new construction, existing customers will have to subsidize that development with higher water and sewerage rates.

Under the proposal, residential water tap fees would go from $2,200 to $4,382 and sewer tap fees from $3,500 to $6,000. Other tap fees for larger industrial lines are much higher, up to $1.1 million for a 12-inch meter for wastewater.

The proposed fee schedule is close to other growing nearby towns, such as Jefferson where water tap fees are $3,200 plus city expenses and $5,000 for sewer plus city expenses. Jefferson also levies impact fees on new construction.

The issue of tap fees has implications for a host of proposed developments in Commerce, including the Cook Communities project on Hwy. 441 South that would have over 400 homes and townhomes. The council is also slated to vote on rezoning and variances for that project on July 19.

Higher tap fees could add to the cost of new housing in Commerce and may alter how developers approach future developments in lot and house sizes and construction materials.

Commerce doesn't currently impose impact fees on new construction. 

Looking Ahead
Two big votes slated Monday

Votes on two large projects — one in the City of Commerce, the other in West Jackson — are slated for Monday, July 19.

Cook Properties in Commerce

The Commerce City Council is slated to vote on the controversial Cook Communities project, a major residential development proposed on the south side of town.

Cook Communities wants to locate 418 homes (112 townhomes and 306 single-family homes) on 187 acres on Hwy. 441 at Whitehill School Rd.

A number of citizens spoke against the project during the Commerce Planning Commission’s June meeting. The planning commission voted to recommend denial of the development.

Hwy. 332/Boone Rd. Project

A hearing is set Monday, July 19, on a request for a 340-lot subdivision in West Jackson.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is slated to consider two map amendments for 170 acres off Hwy. 332 at Boone Rd. The applicant wants a change in the future land use from ag/forestry to residential and a change in the character area from suburban to urban.

Approximately 340 lots are planned in the development, which would be built in phases.

If the two map amendments are approved, the applicant plans to seek an R-2 zoning.

A number of area residents voiced opposition to the project at the Jackson County Planning Commission meeting in June, mostly citing issues with traffic in the area and lack of road infrastructure, specifically on Boone Rd.