ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners August meeting saw an unexpected addition to its agenda as citizens from the Rainbow Lake area met to ask the board to stop the clear cutting of over 500 acres of Timber in the area.
“Devastation,” the word kept arising as citizen after citizen walked to the podium asking the Commissioners to stop the process, or somehow change it to selective cutting.
It is the word that Diane Davenport used when she said she lived downstream of the area. She told the board, “It’s going to devastate us for as long as I live, and as long as my family who inherit my land live.”
Joe Paprocki offered a structured argument against the clear-cut saying there are four main areas majorly affected in the county by this process.
The first area is the water, “We think the soil erosion and silt run-off will critically impact not only Rainbow Lake itself, but James Creek, Mountaintown Creek, and even Carter’s Lake. It will also impact our groundwater and well water.”
The second area is the wildlife, “We believe a clear-cut of this magnitude will be, pretty much, a 100% obliteration of habitat which will vastly diminish animal populations… for many years to come.”
The third area is the countywide quality of life, “We believe people come to Gilmer County to enjoy its forests, lake, creeks, fresh air, and natural beauty. We believe deforestation on this scale will force people like us to reconsider where we are living, if we want to be surrounded and hemmed in by this devastation.”
The fourth area is the property values, “I think we will almost immediately see property values plummet… That means tax revenues are going to go down with it, and county services will go down. Jobs will probably be lost.”
Paprocki said that he has heard people say its private property and there is nothing they can do, but that “800 acres” of devastation, an area large enough to land a 747 commercial airplane, affects the public and is, therefore, a public issue.
One citizen called the area a “war-zone” affecting the lives of the animals she keeps on a farm in the area, another referred to the endangered species in the area as well as the threat of invasive species cropping up after the clear-cut.
As if punctuating the emotion of the community, Alvin Sisson stepped to the podium. Speaking slowly and holding back tears, he choked out his words in short parts. “I was born and raised in Gilmer County, in this area. I have worked the whole project when they built Rainbow Lake. I worked Rainbow Lake from cutting the brush to building the dam itself.”
Noting the three major creeks that feed into Rainbow Lake, Sisson said the creeks would go red with mud before they feed that into the lake as a whole. He noted 500-foot buffers would not stop the devastation, they would not hold back the destruction of the area.
Everyone who spoke either opposed the clear-cut or asked to change to selective cut except one.
Richie Mullins of the Georgia Forestry Commission offered what basically became a crash course in the Commission’s water and forest quality assurance. Walking those present through the logging process and his part, as a Water Quality Specialist, in continuing to maintain the creeks’ and lake’s clarity in the process of and the aftermath of the project.
Calling himself the “Erosion Police,” Mullins assured citizens that he was the area’s biggest advocate for maintaining the lake and the water. Even he never fully said the clear-cut was a good thing, instead trying to assure citizens that he would monitor the project and address their concerns.
Even he himself told a resident that he would prefer a selective cut.
The situation was summed up in one short sentence by Commission Chairman Charlie Paris as he said, “I’d stop it if I could, but I can’t.”
He went on to explain that while he wholeheartedly agreed with citizens about avoiding the clear-cut at all costs, he could not find any legal ways to force the issue. Pausing a moment, he said that if anyone had a legal argument he wanted it so that he could use it. As he stated, in the end, it is their land and they can do it as long as they follow the rules.
“I hate that,” said Paris, “and I know not as much as ya’ll do, but I do hate that.”
Despite the disappointing response, one citizen stood to say, “We just appreciate being heard so that other people know about what is going on because, frankly, it blindsided me.”
As it stands with citizens continuing to look for answers to the project, it seems that they will be keeping a close eye on the logging operation alongside the Forestry Commission to maintain the area after the project completes.
The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met for their May Workshop on Wednesday, May 12, 2016.
Offer your congratulations to Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch. As he completes his final class next week he will become a fully Certified Commissioner under the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. After the class, Commissioner Crouch will have completed 66 hours of training total, in addition to additional training he will complete every year as a part of the Continued Education Program. He has been working on this certification since he took office and was recognized by his fellow commissioners who were “very proud of his accomplishment.”
The Commissioners highlighted a discussion on a change to their timber ordinance to start the meeting. Having listened to several citizens concerns at their hearing last week, they will be adding words to their ordinance to allow certain exceptions by enforcement officers, but they must be written and presentable. Also, the ordinance will protect citizens from having to follow these rules as they landscape their properties, which could involve the removal of trees.
Several purchases were discussed for the county involving a 4 wheel drive Toyota Tacoma for Planning and Zoning Offices with the low bid of $31,380 from North Georgia Toyota, which is out of Dalton, and a 4-wheel drive Jeep Wrangler for the Tax Assessors with the low bid of twenty-five thousand four hundred sixty-nine ($25,469) from Mountain Valley Motors. Another discussion came as Public Safety is looking to purchase a Custom Cab Pumper Fire Engine for Fire House #1. Director Tony Pritchett stated this Fire Truck would be a “front-line” truck capable of responding to almost every fire in the county. Dallas Miller noted that while he believed in providing for our emergency services, he didn’t want to forget that these purchases were creating liabilities in the budget that future Boards would be responsible for. Several citizens spoke out in the discussion adamantly supporting the members of our emergency services and stating the purchase was worth it to maintain higher quality equipment for our county.
Citizens also spoke out vehemently on the the topic of the alcohol ordinance. Having resurfaced after August’s meeting due to a continuous stream of requests from citizens to revisit the subject without opening up to state standards, the commissioners heard several citizens words including those of former Commissioner Del Land who spoke of the history of the ordinance and the thoughts of his Commission as they originally passed the ordinance. Discussion from last week’s hearing came as some said they wanted to preserve their protection of a church located close to one convenience store while other spoke out for fairness of competition as only a couple stores are forbidden from selling alcohol due to the current “overly restrictive ordinance.”
Commissioner Dallas Miller spoke yesterday saying he was worried that if the Commissioners loosened their ordinance too much, they would invite in larger chain stores which could put some of our locally owned shops out of business. However, Commissioner Crouch responded, going so far as to say he was a local business owner and welcome the larger box stores into competition as he held a knowledge, service, and ‘personability’ that they could not compete with.