Chicken Guts, Rabies and Traffic (Oh, My!): Citizens Air Concerns to County Commission

Dave L. Brown heiress Katie Kasch Bien (end of table) asks for the commission's help. She and other Wildwood neighbors fear another Brown heir across Highway 11 plans to sell to a chicken processing plant.

The regular July meeting of the Dade County Commission on Thursday evening was a shortie, but even with its slim agenda it was not without interest thanks to some interesting revelations during the citizens’ participation segment.

Katie Kasch Bien, who introduced herself as Dave L. Brown’s great-granddaughter, addressed the commission on the subject of local rumors, speculation and fears as to the ultimate fate of the great Wildwood expanse that was once the Dave L. Brown farm. She explained that her part of the family legacy is her 130-acre organic farm and that her mother also owns extensive acreage nearby, but that the current concerns are about a parcel on the other side of Highway 11 owned by a disaffected great-uncle, Leonard Nixon, to whose intentions she has no access. “Everyone calls me because I’m a relative,” she said.

The Nixon property has been much in the news locally because the Dade Water Authority and Dade Industrial Development Authority agreed to extend sewer to it, on condition that Nixon chip in $300,000 of the cost, in order to make it more attractive to industry. IDA put conditions on the deal including one that no recycling or food processing industries would be permitted. But Ms. Bien pointed out that if Nixon does not sell through IDA he can sell to anyone he likes, and she said she and other neighbors are concerned he’s negotiating with a chicken processing company. “I think people are ready to gather on this,” she said.

Ms. Bien said she intends to build a new home on Pope Creek and wants the water there to remain clean enough for her child to play in it. She said Wildwood was a beautiful and historic area that would be an excellent site for quality housing and that she was in the process of forming a neighbors’ group to protect it called the Wildwood Preservation Alliance. She appealed to the commission for help and advice.

New IDA director William Back had spoken briefly on the same subject earlier in the meeting and had dismissed any notion of a chicken processing plant. “I’m convinced now, having talked to Sen. Mullis’s office, that that’s not going to happen,” he intoned.

Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley acknowledged that Nixon could do what he liked with his land but said if he passed up the IDA deal he—or the new owner—would have to arrange for sewer service independently. “It would cost millions,” he said.

[That, parenthetically, was the prevailing wisdom when IDA first proposed the sewer extension to the Dade Water Authority earlier this year. But by the next month, Dade Water manager Doug Anderton had reversed course and assured the water authority’s board the sewer project could easily be done with Nixon’s $300,000, precipitating the signing of the agreement with IDA.]

In any case, Rumley was sympathetic to Ms. Bien’s anti-chicken-plant cause, reminding her that it was the county commission that had required IDA to include the no-food-processing, no-landfill, no-recycling clauses to its contract, and promising to help her when and if possible. “We’ll be up front with anything we can share,” he said.

Next was Richard Reynolds, who told a chilling tale of having come across an “obviously rabid” fox while clearing some land on his Lookout Mountain property. It had fled and later been spotted on the main road snapping at passers-by.

Richard Reynolds spins his terrifying tale of a rabid fox while County Attorney Robin Rogers looks on in horror and local newsman Alex McAlpin gets it all on camera.

Rumley had earlier reported that Billy Massengale, Dade’s gravel-voiced roads boss, had had to undergo the prescribed series of rabies shots after being bitten by an animal that could not be found for testing. Rumley warned citizens that skunks are especially likely to carry the fatal disease, and asked them to report any suspicious animals to the Dade County Sheriff’s Office. That's (706) 657-3233--or, in an emergency, 911.

Harry Abell of the Highway 157 area on Lookout arose then to ask about the new luxury hotel and resort purportedly going up in neighboring Walker County under the allied auspices of developer Duane Horton and Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield. How would that affect his own traffic? he asked. “157 is pretty narrow already,” said Abell .

Rumley explained to Abell that though Dade supplies water to the area in question, and also owns the only sewer plant there, Dade has been neither consulted nor updated on any aspect of hotel construction planned or ongoing. “We’ve not been involved,” he said.

Patrick Hickey, a Democratic candidate for the District 1 county commission seat being vacated by Mitchell Smith this year, stood up to talk about traffic conditions

in the Highway 299 area in Wildwood, which is used as an escape and alternate route from I-24 when it becomes gridlocked, which is more or less constantly these days. Who knew how many accidents happened there, said Hickey, because tie-ups there are a daily occurrence. “Is there any talk of putting in a traffic signal?” he asked.

Rumley assured him that the state has been working on the engineering to improve 299 since the new Vanguard plant was constructed several years back. He said he’d know more after an upcoming Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) regional update meeting July 12 or 13.

And on a related subject, in his monthly address to the public earlier in the meeting, Rumley had mentioned that GDOT and TDOT, its Tennessee counterpart, had been doing a lot of planning toward improving the Moccasin Bend area of I-24, which historically has been a source of a lot of the highway’s troubles. Rumley said the idea under discussion was to expand vertically with some sort of overpass since the road had already been widened as much as the geography allows.

Dade 4-H education Alison Henderson reported on 4-H in the absence of County Agent Katie Hammond, who she explained had moved up in the world to a supervisory position in the extension service. The commission thanked Ms. Henderson for keeping the program going minus an agent, a condition likely to persist for some time if recent history is any guide.

Now, the routine business of the July 5 meeting: This year’s especially prolonged and tortuous county budgeting process will culminate in three public hearings on the millage rate later this month, and even that part is turning into a headache, too:

County Clerk Don Townsend announced dates for the required hearings, but not a location. Normally they would be held in the Commission Room of the Dade Administrative Building, where regular commission meetings are conducted, but that’s out this month because of early voting in the primary runoff election. The courthouse is also a no-go because these meetings will be on Thursdays, which is Dade’s circuit court day. So probably the hearings will be in the Dade County Public Library, but that couldn’t be firmed up because library manager Marshana Sharps, who faithfully reports at commission meetings every month, had to be elsewhere during this one.

So location will be announced later, but meanwhile here are the times: Thursday, July 19, at noon and 6 p.m.; and at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 26, with a special called meeting at 6:30 p.m. to approve the county’s millage rate and to formalize the separate millage rate set by the school board. The county commission’s approval is required before the school board’s millage rate can be adopted though as a practical matter the commission has no power to dictate to the school board or alter its rate.

These three public hearings are required by law because though the commission is leaving the millage rate the same as it was last year at 8.484, a slight growth in the tax digest means that rate will generate $163,752 more in tax revenues for fiscal year 2019 than this year. Thus it is technically a tax increase and the commission has a legal obligation to advertise it in the print newspaper and give the citizens a chance to air their views.

In other business, the commission approved $144,000 in SPLOST (special purchase local option sales tax) funds for a bush ax, or industrial-strength boom mower, for the roads department, to be purchased through a five-year financing arrangement. The commissioners also approved $274,000 total SPLOST in $61,586 annual payments for a lease/purchase agreement for the long-discussed new LED lighting for the Four Fields athletic complex.

The commission changed the effective date of its new accommodation tax to Jan. 1, 2019, and agreed to surplus and send to auction a 2010 Ford Crown Victoria and a 2006 Challenger tractor.

As far as commissioners’ reports, District 4’s Allan Bradford was on vacation and District 1’s Mitchell Smith, who is leaving the commission after this year, found nothing to say. District 2’s Scottie Pittman, whose further tenure will be decided in this month’s runoff election, reminded citizens to get out and vote. Not on the grounds they should vote for him, he was quick to specify, but because this election is going to cost the county just as much as a presidential election, and thus voters should get their money’s worth by turning out.

Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley reminded Pittman that at the Four Fields athletic complex—Pittman’s committee assignment—finishing touches are being added to the second SPLOST-purchased pavilion (as depicted above in this Friday snap).

District 2 Commissioner Robert Goff had glad tidings: For the first time in 56 months—that’s four and a half years, folks—SPLOST collections were over $200,000 last month. He reminded the audience that SPLOST collections have a considerable lag time, so the money was generated in April or so, but last month’s reported total was $206,391.23. This longed-for upward bump, and Goff hopes trend, is a consummation devoutly to be wished—Goff usually reports the opposite—and the result, he said, of “buying at home in Dade County.”

In his own report, Chairman Rumley congratulated the commissioners on having “finally finalized” (The Planet’s term, not Rumley’s) its FY 2019 budget. “A lot of hard work and a lot of sleepless nights went into that,” he said.

He announced that CHI Memorial had obtained its certificate of need to build a northwest Georgia cancer hospital. The facility will be in Ringgold but Rumley said it would be important to Dade, as well. And he expressed gratitude to CHI Memorial for its primary care clinic in Trenton. “I get very few complaints about that clinic,” he said.

If that seems like faint praise, Rumley did say the county was lucky to have the clinic, and by contrast his comments on the next subject, Norfolk Southern, were unambiguously unlauditory. “We’re really going to have to draw a line on this issue,” he said.

The issue to which the county boss referred was the eternal Dade frustration of Norfolk Southern trains blocking rail crossings so that residents cannot drive to or from their homes on the east, or “wrong,” side of the tracks. The situation has not been so bad in Trenton proper lately, said Rumley, but on the north side of town it’s gotten worse.

He had calls one morning recently at 7 a.m. from Steel Road residents, said the Boss; then the tracks were still blocked at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Only two train cars were blocking the tracks, so that if the train had moved a few more feet it need not have imprisoned the residents, said Rumley, but that was the second time in two weeks the same thing had happened.

In any case, with one way in and one way out, nowhere to land a helicopter in the neighborhood and one of the Steel Road hostages an 87-year-old lady having panic attacks about the situation, Rumley said he had appealed to State Sen. Jeff Mullis and U.S. Representative Tom Graves about Norfolk Southern’s continuing and unmitigated abuse. “I want these people on Steel Road to know we’re not taking this lightly,” said Rumley.

But if Graves and Mullis at their respective levels of political clout can do anything to alleviate the misery of the wrong-side-of-the-trackers, Rumley advised the rest of us: “Pray for it because that’s all we can do.”

The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The next regular meeting is on Aug. 2, though the previously mentioned budget hearings and meetings will be on July 19 and 26 as discussed above.

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