Stimulus could fund local projects

29 01 2009


Diane Wagner | Rome News-Tribune

Local officials are prepared to seek federal stimulus funding for projects, although neither Rome nor Floyd County have prepared comprehensive lists.“I’ve heard other cities are doing it, but who do you give it to? Just send it to the White House?” City Manager John Bennett said.

Provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — the stimulus package — funnel much of the money through various federal agencies to their state counterparts.

Bennett said if the Georgia Environmental Protection Division calls for projects, the city would submit plans for a sewer lift station on Horseleg Creek.

Rome also has a five-year plan to improve low-income sections of the city using federal entitlement funds. Some of those projects could be eligible for stimulus money flowing through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The Georgia Department of Transportation also has a statewide list of “shovel-ready” road projects that includes center turn lanes on Ga. 53. The 411 Connector was a last-minute addition, but the state still needs to buy the right of way so it’s unlikely to fit the stimulus package requirements.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a lot of projects that are ready to go,” Bennett said. “There are some street pavings, drainage work and sidewalk improvements we’d like to submit. But we don’t have plans for a new city hall, for example.”

County Manager Kevin Poe said the county is in a similar position. Officials are lobbying the DOT to add funding for the west leg of the South Rome bypass, he said, but it’s unclear what other projects could be eligible.

“The only thing that would be shovel-ready is the Armuchee Connector,” he said. “But we’re trying to stay away from federal dollars on that because there are more hoops to jump through.”

The $12-million road and bridge across the Oostanaula River that would link State Mutual Stadium with Old Summerville Road north of Rome is part of the 2006 special purpose, local option sales tax package.

Using stimulus money to pay for sidewalk and drainage projects on Lyons Drive and the Pennington Avenue area could, however, solve a looming problem for the city.

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DOT action could kill Beltline, angry mayor says

27 01 2009


ARIEL HART | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

City of Atlanta officials are fuming over a move by the state Department of Transportation and Amtrak that they say could kill the Beltline, a planned 22-mile loop of transit, parks and trails around the city’s core.

The dispute centers on part of the land the Beltline would need.

Georgia DOT and Amtrak have united against the city and the Norfolk Southern rail company to oppose abandonment of a key northeast part of the corridor, according to a letter Mayor Shirley Franklin wrote to Rep. John Lewis. The abandonment would enable redevelopment.

“GDOT has acted to thwart the Beltline and with it jeopardized Atlanta’s ability to plan and accommodate the growth we know is coming in the next several decades,” Franklin wrote.

She said DOT’s actions would put noisy heavy rail, such as Amtrak trains, in inappropriate environments like neighborhoods near Piedmont Park, “at the expense of the Beltline.”

She called DOT’s behavior “boorish” and said that “the future of the city of Atlanta is at stake.”

DOT officials said the state’s actions are no threat to the Beltline.

DOT spokesman David Spear said that DOT remained “completely, totally supportive” of the Beltline and that it was possible to follow both DOT’s plans and the city’s plans for the Beltline.

Atlanta officials have hoped the Beltline will seed a rebirth in close-in Atlanta areas by attracting dense, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of homes, businesses and entertainment within walking distance from mass transit stops.

State parks won’t close; some lodges may privatize

25 11 2008

Georgia’s state parks are safe from the budget ax — for now.

Gov. Sonny Perdue discussed the revised budget cuts for the Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday morning with Commissioner Noel Holcomb and his likely successor, current Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority Executive Director Chris Clark. Instead of closing up to six of the state’s 48 state parks, they decided to cut deeper elsewhere, further slashing funds for routine maintenance and equipment replacements.  Still on the table is closing up to five historic sites, two fewer than originally proposed earlier this fall. The exact locations have not yet been determined, and the sites could remain open with reduced hours.

The state is also considering privatizing all its golf courses and several lodges, at George T. Bagby State Park, Georgia Veterans State Park and Smithgall Woods Conservation Area.

DNR spokeswoman Beth Brown said public feedback made a difference, motivating the change to the proposed cuts that could take effect starting early next year.

But, she said, it’s a tradeoff. “There are repairs and maintenance that need to be done that will be delayed,” Brown said. “We have trucks with 250,00 to 300,000 miles that we can’t replace, and that are critical for us to do the job that we do.”

With state revenues faltering, Perdue and top legislators are trying make up a revenue shortfall of $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion.

Smyrna couple goes green to cut energy costs

7 10 2008

When Jon and Brenda Gallagher decided to embark on a kitchen overhaul last year, they consulted Smyrna neighbor and energy-efficiency expert Matt Hoots, president of the Hoots Group. But for Hoots, a contractor specializing in EarthCraft homes, a remodel isn’t just about an attractive floorplan. He wanted to give the Gallaghers a “greenovation.”

“Because Matt is so knowledgeable about green building, we realized, ‘Oh, we can remodel and save some money, too?’” Brenda Gallagher recalled.

The project included new ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, new lighting, locally sourced cabinetry (cutting down on fuel use in transport, Hoots said), and paint low in volatile organic compounds. Hoots also installed programmable thermostats in three areas, allowing the Gallaghers to regulate heat and cooling in the rooms they use most. A crawlspace was draped in thick plastic, inhibiting humidity, odors and mold growth from seeping into the home. The couple plan to swap out old windows with energy-efficient models.

Products that carry the WaterSense and ENERGY STAR labels are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But you don’t have to make sweeping changes in your home to save on your energy bill, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Lynn Wallace. Cutting down on costs can be as easy as swapping out old light bulbs in favor of ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent bulbs, such as the ones found throughout the Gallagher home.

“I know in this economy people don’t have a lot of extra money, but if you spend a little upfront, you’ll save money in the longterm,” she said.

Not sure where to begin conserving energy in your home? Wallace said Georgia Power customers can request a free energy audit of their home with an ENERGY STAR expert.

Read on here.

Residents’ concerns noted in state park plan

1 10 2008


I have the privilege to serve Georgia as chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority. I accepted this appointment from Gov. Sonny Perdue, and I serve at his pleasure to help achieve the state’s vision for Jekyll Island: that Jekyll shall become a model for a self-sustaining conservation community accessible to all Georgians and once again contribute to the economic prosperity and quality of life for Georgia. This vision is clear and simple, but getting there is often complex. The authority board and staff are keenly aware that we serve the citizens of Georgia, many of whom are passionate about protecting Jekyll as a unique destination. So are we.

I’m afraid some have let their emotions become unbridled and this may be the case with the recent tirade of accusations made by former authority board member, Ed Boshears. Boshears’ accusations are not true, and the people of Georgia need to understand several critical issues.

First, Boshears was not “fired.” Boshears served a complete term, which expired in June, and he continued to serve as the law provides until the governor appointed his replacement. The governor’s reasons are his own, but we are pleased with the appointment of state Rep. Richard Royal. Royal has an outstanding reputation and is a successful businessman in addition to a public servant.

Second, the accusation that the authority engaged in unethical or illegal actions as it works to encourage investment on Jekyll is absolutely false. Last year, Boshears alleged that one of our private-sector partners received a $10 million “giveaway.” This is completely untrue, and was reinforced by a positive ruling from Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker. The selection of Linger Longer Communities, which Boshears voted for, was upheld in court after several challenges by a losing team. The authority board works in full compliance with all of Georgia’s sunshine laws with open public participation.

But the most important point for Georgians to understand is that although Jekyll is a state park it is also required by law to be economically self-sustaining and affordable. It is incumbent upon the board to set policy carefully, yet address a number of challenges, including declining visitation (down nearly 600,000 visitors per year since 1989) and deteriorating facilities (we have more than $30 million in necessary maintenance in our acclaimed historic district alone). This must be accomplished without massive support from the taxpayers — visitation must provide the self-sustaining revenue.

The board must work together to address these challenges.

Solutions include responsible revitalization that will allow us to slowly increase visitation and revenue with a low-density mix of redeveloped retail, lodging and convention offerings on just a small portion of the island. Indeed, a recent visitation analysis revealed that total development needed to generate necessary visitation and income over the next 15 years represents a net addition of roughly 1,000 lodging units, 400 dwelling units and 25,000 commercial square feet over levels that existed 20 years ago.

Other key initiatives include strict design guidelines and lighting ordinances that will protect endangered sea turtles. Having financially strong and talented private partners is a critical part of the equation.

For now, water grants for cities are gone

9 09 2008

In a year when Georgia has been weathering a historic drought and state legislators touted their new emphasis on water planning, a new program to expand local water supplies has evaporated in the state budget crunch.

In March, the Legislature approved $40 million for grants to local governments that wanted to build new reservoirs or expand existing ones, drill new wells, or create new connections between water systems. Gov. Sonny Perdue has announced that he is eliminating that funding as part of across-the-board cutbacks to offset a shortfall between the state budget and incoming revenue.

Virtually every state program is feeling the pressure, but few of them had received more political attention and fanfare this year than the need for water planning and increased water supply. The grant program was being administered by the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.

In Middle Georgia, the city of Thomaston had applied for a grant to replace an old pump station that would help fill the city’s new reservoir. Thomaston was one of the few cities in Middle Georgia that banned all outdoor watering for a while last year because of concerns that its water supply was dipping too low.

Thomaston has purchased the reservoir formerly used by the now-closed Thomaston Mills. The city is deepening the reservoir and building a higher dam that will enable it to hold more water, City Manager Pat Comiskey said. This would increase by 50 percent the amount of water available to the city with its existing Hannah’s Mill Reservoir, he said.

The $6.6 million project was funded mostly by the city, but Thomaston was seeking a grant of about $1.5 million from the state. Without the grant, the city will likely rely on an existing, old pump station to fill the new lake from a nearby stream, Comiskey said. This will probably take longer but can suffice as long as the pump holds up, he said.

“We in Thomaston planned for our own needs,” he said. “When the grant funding came up, we saw it as a great opportunity. … But we certainly understand the economic situation.”

Thomaston was one of 13 local governments that had applied for loans, and about 20 other applications were expected by the state when the grant program was suspended a few weeks ago, said GEFA spokesman Shane Hix.

Read on here.