Jennifer Blair addresses the Dade County Commission about the logging operation currently denuding Lookout Mountain.
Citizens flooded the Dade County Commission's regular November meeting last Thursday to protest the epic-scale logging that is currently denuding the west side of Lookout Mountain. One after another, they stood up during both the work session and formal business portion of the Nov. 1 meeting to ask the commission's help in defending the mountain against an operation they said was impacting Lookout's tourist industry as well as its ecology, wildlife and natural beauty.
Jennifer Blair pointed out that the logging operation is blighting the main entry point to Cloudland Canyon State Park, Dade's biggest tourist draw, as well as destroying habitat for wildlife and pollinators and causing noise and water pollution. She reminded the commissioners that logging trucks are famous for shredding taxpayer-maintained roads and that the land being ravaged by the loggers is dear to hikers, wildflower enthusiasts and birdwatchers as well as to the plants and animals that live there. ""Forests are the lungs of our land," she said. "We cannot live without them."
Josh McKinley, a former ranger at the state park, said a creek coming off the logged acreage was formerly clean enough to drink from. "Now it's got this yellow stuff going over the surface of it," he said, adding he'd seen dead animals lying beside the creek.
"I don't think anybody likes to be told what to do with their land," said McKinley. But considering how profoundly the logging operation was affecting the people who live on the mountain: "We should be able to weigh in a little," he said.
(Photo: Cloudland Canyon State Park uber-volunteer "Chainsaw" Bob Venable addresses the commission.)
Weigh in they did. Ally Bates said she'd noticed eco-damage from the shaved land during Thursday's heavy rains as well as discarded hydraulic fluid and oil containers littering the landscape. "We've got some video of the runoff," she said. Another woman, a transplant from Florida, said she'd watched what happened to the Everglades there and didn't want to see Dade also turn into a big, dead county.
Dave Angsten (right) said he and his wife ran a wedding venue and Airbnb on their 30 acres on Lookout and were alarmed at what the logging could do to their business, not to mention their well water. "We're hearing it get closer and closer," he said. He had also heard speculation that after the Lookout acres were logged they would be sold to a developer. "We have a lot of things that we didn't bargain for coming very fast," he said.
Bob Venable reminded the commissioners that land can be used without destroying the ecology. "You can make money and be sustainable," he said.
They all got a sympathetic listen, if nothing else, from the county commissioners. "We're on your side," said Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley. "And right now we are researching things we can do by law."
"I'm really not happy with what I'm seeing," said Allan Bradford, commissioner for District 4, in which the affected mountainside lies. And District 3's Robert Goff said: "I live at the foot of the mountain and if I could stop this tonight I would."
But the commissioners warned the citizens there wasn't much they could do to help. Rumley assured Angston that developers are now regulated and bonded under an ordinance the county passed years ago, after unscrupulous developers took advantage of Dade's innocence at the Preserve at Rising Fawn in a massive land fraud and financial scandal in Johnson's Crook. However, said the county boss: "There is a limit to the ordinances we can pass."
He promised the county was watching--and so was the state--and otherwise referred the protestors higher up, to State Sen. Jeff Mullis.
(Photo: Logo from Ruby City's website. The tourist attraction's founders are listed as the owners of the Lookout Mountain tract being clearcut.)
The 648-acre tract being logged is listed on the tax map as the property of Ernest and Violet Klatt and Bill Winchester of a Florida address; but initial research done by Jennifer Blair indicates that the Klatts are deceased and the parcel is now part of a family trust. Ernest Klatt was the founder of Ruby City, a gemstone emporium and tourist attraction in North Carolina, and Ruby City's website says Klatt left a "real estate empire [that] covers seven states"--including, apparently, a certain scenic mountainside in the northwestern corner of Georgia.
The Dade Planet will continue reporting on the logging operation as more details emerge.