City hall wetlands project underway

26 12 2008

By Rachel Oswald | Covington News

Visitors to the Covington City Hall in recent weeks have no doubt noticed a great deal of activity taking place to the left and right of the building.

Since the beginning of November, a wetlands creation project has been underway on the side of city hall that abuts Dried Indian Creek. A new bio-retention parking lot is also under construction on the other side of city hall on Emory Street.

The city is using a Georgia Environmental Protection Division grant to fund the wetlands project which encompasses 1.2 acres next to city hall. The EPD’s $158,000 grant will pay for 55 percent of the costs of the project. The city is matching EPD with $130,000 of its own from the Storm-water fund.

City Engineer Tres Thomas said he was pleased that the city received lower than expected price bids for the project. Cline Service Corporation won the construction contract with a low bid of $142,000 he said. Design schematics for the wetlands project were completed by Manhard Consulting.

To make way for the wetlands, several large pecan trees had to be cut down next to city hall. Thomas said the decision was made to remove the trees because their root systems would not have survived in a wetland environment.

Those pecan trees will be replaced with 15 river birch trees, eight green ash trees, 12 Ironwood trees, six swamp chestnut oaks and nine water oaks. All total, 107 trees and shrubs will be planted in the wetlands site.

“It’ll take them a while to reach a mature stage, but I’m hoping that it’ll turn out nice,” Thomas said of the tree plantings.

The wetlands project also includes the construction of a raised boardwalk that will wind through the site allowing visitors to admire the natural splendor of the wetlands without muddying their feet. The boardwalk will hook up to the county-wide trails system once it is complete Thomas said.

“Part of our grant requires demonstration,” Thomas said. “Anyone in the public is welcome to come down and see it.”

The idea for the wetlands project is the result of collaboration between Manhard and the city, Thomas said. Two earlier EPD grant proposals were turned down, but the city was awarded the grant this year due to the endangered status of Indian Creek Thomas said.

“EPD likes to see projects that protect impaired streams,” he said.

Grading work is already underway for the control structure that will funnel stormwater discharge from as far away as the Covington square into Indian Creek, which, depending on rain levels, should result in a permanently flooded site. Construction will also entail digging 2-3 feet down to access groundwater to flood the site.

Thomas said he expected construction on the wetlands site to be completed by April.

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UGA loses bid for bio lab

4 12 2008

The University of Georgia has apparently lost its bid for a $450 million laboratory to research biological threats posed by animals, including anthrax.

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will be constructed at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, a staffer in a congressman’s office confirmed on Wednesday.  UGA says that if it had won the research center, it would have employed as many as 1,500 construction workers, provided permanent jobs to at least 250 people and had an economic impact of $1.5 billion over 20 years. Supporters of the Georgia bid said the facility would have also significantly raised the state’s profile as home for scientific research.

Amy Kudwa, a Homeland Security department spokeswoman, said the agency would not comment on the matter until the department officially announces its selection. It’s not clear when the announcement will come, but Homeland Security’s website notes a decision is expected in early December.

The new complex will replace an existing research facility on Plum Island, a few miles off Long Island, N.Y. That location has enabled the federal government, for more than a half-century, to prevent its research on foot-and-mouth disease from accidentally infecting American livestock.

Some critics fear that moving the facility to the U.S. mainland would raise the risk of an outbreak of potentially fatal diseases among animals and humans. Federal officials insist that a new facility will be safe.

The Kansas site was identified as Homeland Security’s top choice in an environmental impact statement dated December 2008. Lanier Avant, an aide to U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said agency officials informed the congressman of the decision on Monday. U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) also released a statement Wednesday hailing the decision.

Public-private partnerships from Kansas and competing bidders from Texas and Mississippi offered generous financial incentives totalling $100 million from each bidder. Georgia offered $25 million in incentives.

David Lee, UGA’s vice president of research, said, “I can’t fault (the Department of Homeland Security) for choosing the Manhattan site. I felt all along that Manhattan was probably our strongest competitor.

“I also happen to think Athens is the better site,” Lee said. “We’re disappointed. I feel the disappointment of a lot of people at the University of Athens and across the state.”

In bidding for the facility, Georgia noted that UGA has other facilities that could enhance the research. Among them are the university’s school for veterinary medicine and its animal research center.

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Savannah Joins Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia

3 12 2008

WSAV

The City of Savannah has become the first community in Georgia to receive designation as a Bronze Level Partner by the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia, a state-sponsored voluntary environmental leadership initiative.

The designation was based on the strength of the City’s sustainability plan, called the Thrive Initiative which seeks to reduce the Savannah City government’s carbon footprint by 15 percent.

Becoming a Partner allows the city to access state resources, such as grant funding, to improve environmental efforts and help Savannah achieve its sustainability goal.

The Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia was created by the state in 2004 to foster environmental leadership and recognize superior environmental performance. Free and open to any business or organization in Georgia, it includes four Partnership levels to fit the changing goals and environmental initiatives of the participants.

As a Partner, the city will work to improve our current environmental efforts, identify potential cost saving measures, and set a standard for environmental excellence in Georgia.





Route 133 project ending environmental phase

3 12 2008

Susan McCord | Albany Herald

ALBANY — State funds may still be scarce for widening State Route 133 to four lanes from Albany to Valdosta, but the environmental phase of the project is nearly complete.

Guests at Georgia Department of Transportation open house events Tuesday in Albany, Doerun and Moultrie viewed aerial maps of the project’s 32-mile route from Albany to Moultrie, learned more about right-of-way acquisition and examined results of an environmental study required by federal law.

Wetlands are common throughout the project and there is one federally protected endangered species, the Coulley’s Meadow Rue, a plant found primarily on a power line right-of-way and on lands owned by the Nature Conservancy along the route, said Ron Johnson, a biologist with Aecom, which conducted the study.

The environmental document is “essentially done,” said Johnson, who also surveyed for animals possibly impacted by the project, such as the gopher tortoise, and found none.

Plans displayed Tuesday showed Highway 133 enlarged to four lanes, with a 44-foot grass median along most of the route from Albany to Moultrie. The road deviates from the current route in five places between the two cities, including a new bypass that skirts the northern city limits of Doerun. The speed limit will be 65 mph where the median is 32 feet or wider.

DOT recently held similar meetings on the Moultrie to Valdosta section of the project, said Manager Michael Haithcock, who has been involved since its 2001 start.

Though the environmental document must be cleared by federal officials before construction can start, the entire corridor lacks state funding, Haithcock said.

While preliminary engineering for the project has been funded, right-of-way acquisition and construction never has.

“We’ll have a better idea in about a year,” he said. “We want to be ready, so if we do get the funding, these projects are ready to go.”

DOT and most state agencies have announced large budget shortfalls and cuts this year, and public estimates of the project’s cost has ranged from $300 million to $1.3 billion.

“I would love to see it happen,” said Haithcock. “The thing I like about this corridor is that we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of public support.”

Recently retired state Transportation Board member Billy Langdale was always a “big supporter” of the corridor project, he said, and Langdale is “one of the greatest Americans I’ve ever met in my life.”

The project bypasses Doerun to the north, an idea that gained favor with residents once they learned the entire town qualified for the National Historic Register, said Larry Cook, project manager with Hatch Mott MacDonald, which did surveying, design and bridge design for DOT.

The corridor spans 9.1 miles in Dougherty County, 10.6 miles in Worth County and 13.3 miles in Colquitt County.

But the open house was bittersweet for Dougherty residents Eddie and Marjorie Cox, whose brick home for 30 years is one of several in the way of the widening road.

Continue reading here.





Threats to Georgia’s growth

2 12 2008

BUDDY CARTER | Savannah Morning News

On Nov. 4, Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States.

On Nov. 20, U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., was elected chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives.

What do these two events have to do with Georgia’s future growth?

Some will say nothing; others will say plenty.

Over the past decade, Georgia has been one of the fastest growing states in the nation. From 2000 through 2006, Georgia’s population grew by 14.4 percent, helping to make it the ninth most populous state in the nation.

We would not have been able to grow without the natural resources necessary to support such an increase. Water and sewer capacities are prerequisites for growth in any area.

For years, the state of Georgia has been mired in a lawsuit with the states of Alabama and Florida regarding water flows in the Chattahoochee River and how much water is to be taken out of Lake Lanier in Northeast Georgia for the city of Atlanta’s drinking needs.

The tri-state water war took on national significance during the recently completed presidential campaign, when then-candidate Obama announced during a campaign stop in Florida that he would make “protecting Florida’s water resources” a priority in his administration.

The comment was quickly interpreted by incumbent U. S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and other high ranking state officials as meaning Mr. Obama favored Florida’s water needs over that of Georgia and Alabama.

A final decision on this acrimonious suit should be made in a Florida court sometime next year. For Georgia and its capital city, the ramifications are resounding. Without the ability to control its future water supply, as well as hold on to the water it already has, growth in the region will be stymied.

Meanwhile, Rep. Waxman’s ascent to the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is hailed by many as an indication of the extreme environmental policies that can be expected to come out of Washington in the coming years.

Rep. Waxman, who was viewed as a more liberal choice than the former chairman whom he ousted, is expected to work with the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to push for environmental policy reform.

While all Georgians are concerned with protecting our precious natural resources, there is legitimate concern that environmental extremism could have a significant impact on future growth.

One such example is the Savannah harbor, home of the Georgia Ports Authority and viewed by many as the economic engine of the state. For years now, the ports have been lobbying for the deepening of the Savannah River channel to accommodate the larger ships calling on American ports.

Without this deepening, future growth of this vital economic stimulus could spell disaster to growth not only in Coastal Georgia, but to all parts of the state.

Another consideration affecting the ports in Savannah is the water quality standards set forth by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Currently, the EPD has set the total maximum daily load for dissolved oxygen for the Savannah Harbor at the same level as a mountain trout stream in North Georgia, which is generally recognized as an unattainable level.

Read on here.





Georgia growers sharing conservation ideas

2 12 2008

By Sharon Dowdy | Southeast Farm Press

Vann and Tabatha Wooten work hard to grow crops in environmentally friendly ways that conserve the resources on their farm in Hazelhurst, Ga. They are part of a program to help other farmers do the same.

ON TOP Farms near Hazelhurst, Ga., Vann and Tabatha Wooten use environmentally-friendly practices whenever possible. Now, with the help of the Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia — Ag track program, they plan to share what they are doing by offering tours of their farm. (Photo: Courtesy Adam Speir)

Partnership for a Sustainable Georgia — Ag Track works with growers like the Wootens to promote agricultural efficiency, said Adam Speir, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension ag pollution specialist.

“The program promotes the good work of Georgia farmers and producers who are using good environmental practices on their operations,” said Speir, who coordinates the program through the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The free, volunteer program is administered by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“To date, more than 160 businesses, towns, colleges and state agencies have reduced waste, water and energy usage by participating in the program,” Speir said.

DNR’s Pollution Prevention Assistance Division also helps participating partners improve recycling and find uses for by-products, he said.

The program has four levels: Champion, bronze, silver and gold. The entry level for each participant is based on their current conservation efforts and those slated for completion in the program.

The Wootens are at the silver level, which means that they are operating under a conservation plan.

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Flint River dam proposals revive statewide controversy

1 12 2008

| Macon.com

THOMASTON — Some days it seems like the Flint River flows backward.

Back three decades, in fact, to a time when damming the gentle Flint was a roiling controversy where it flowed through Upson County.  Those were the days when Thomaston was still in the business of clothing Americans and transporting them on B.F. Goodrich tires. Mill jobs were plentiful, and a series of three big lakes nearby seemed like icing on the cake.

In the 1970s, sculpting the landscape with mammoth engineering projects was viewed as the culmination of human achievement, and Georgia environmentalists were only starting to organize. But with the help of Mercer University students whose research showed a lack of demand for lake recreation in the area, river advocates prompted then Gov. Jimmy Carter to scuttle the dam project.

In the intervening years, Sprewell Bluff, the location for one of the big dams, became a state park. Most people thought the dam project was as long gone as the ’70s fuel shortage.

It was. But now both are back, though the reasons have changed.

Today the chief justification for Flint River dams has switched from hydroelectric power and recreation to water supply. Nonetheless, the possible economic benefits of nearby reservoirs aren’t lost on Thomaston residents, some of whom are more enthusiastic now that the local economy has been drained by factory closures.

Environmentalism has a broader appeal in Georgia today. Carter helped announce a Flint Riverkeeper advocacy organization this summer to mobilize against a revived dam project.

Republican congressmen Lynn Westmoreland and Nathan Deal sought $10 million this year in federal funding for a study of reauthorizing the Flint River dams. And this summer, the first draft of metro Atlanta’s newest water supply plan called for two dams on the Flint after 2035.

Last month, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority released a report on the most immediate possibilities for expanding the state’s water supply. The report highlighted 16 existing reservoirs that could be expanded, including four on tributaries of the Flint River nearest Atlanta.

Brian Robinson, Westmoreland’s press secretary, said funding for studying the dam was put in the water resources bill during the last congressional session, but no action was taken. He said Westmoreland will probably request the money again.

Read on here.