Where will the new Iron Bridge be? Citizens voice their opinion over placement.

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Citizens united to express concerns over the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) initial plans to replace the Shallowford Bridge or “Iron Bridge” located off of Aska Road, and now they unite once again to present solutions rather than complaints to GDOT about the future of the Aska Adventure Area.


Originally the fate of the Shallowford Bridge came into question when plans emerged for a replacement bridge in the area.

GDOT Proposal of replacement site for the Shallowford Bridge.


Constructed from a steel truss frame and having a wooden deck to allow for traffic, the 100 year old Shallowford Bridge spans 175 feet crossing the Toccoa River. The bridge also forms part of the Benton MacKaye Trail.


These concerns were relieved when GDOT announced that they would not be demolishing the Shallowford Bridge, but rather would be constructing a new bridge nearby. GDOT also expressed that they would be willing to “hand over” the bridge to become property of Fannin County leaving the county responsible for maintenance.


The new location of an upgraded bridge has many residents and business owners in the area concerned. Set almost directly beside the Shallowford Bridge, citizens feel that this could cause more congestion and more safety issues in the area.


“The majority of us, we’re not against the bridge,” Kimberly Wolfe co-owner of the Iron Bridge General Store and Cafe said explaining the purpose of the meeting. “We feel like we do need a new bridge. That’s not an issue. The placement of the new bridge is a huge issue.”


“This one (Shallowford Bridge) has been on the radar for a long time. Out of 100 it scores 13 on sufficiency,” Emil Dunn a member of the State Transportation Board elaborated on the need to build a replacement bridge.


Ron Grace, a resident of the Aska Adventure Area, proposed a different site for the replacement bridge. This site located beyond the Shallowford Bridge, traveling in the direction of Newport Road, would utilize a small portion of land currently owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

Design options shown by GDOT. One similar to these designs will be constructed for the replacement bridge.


Having spoke with the GDOT project manager for the Shallowford Bridge replacement, Grace said of the interaction, “They had not considered the US Forest Service property. They say they are going to look at it.”


According to Grace, GDOT had only considered the proposed site which they presented to the public and a site upstream closer to the Toccoa River Restaurant, but that the second site would have required the purchase of a home.


“Not knowing anything, they put it there because they thought it would look the best and have the least amount of impact,” Dunn spoke of GDOT’s reasoning for the placement saying that it came from an engineer’s perspective and that the proposed site would have the least environmental impact.


Another resident present at the meeting added, “When they (GDOT) picked that site it was because the bank was already high and you didn’t have to build up the bank.”


Area business owner Felton Stephens spoke of the group’s proposal to move the bridge further from the site recommended by GDOT: “It’s a win win situation, it takes most of the traffic off of the home owners, and they could also, if the county wanted to, put in a little more public parking out there. A little bit more access.”


Stephens spoke of adding additional parking near the bridge if it were to be moved to U.S. Forest Service land and an area where kayakers and tubers of the Toccoa would have a place to get in and out of the river.


While citizens seemed agreeable to approaching GDOT with the new proposal site up river, questions still came about regarding the upkeep of the original Shallowford Bridge.


Beyond Fannin County’s already budgeted roads and bridges line item, Dunn also pointed out that there is the possibility of extra funding from the state through the use of a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG).

Historical photo of the Shallowford Bridge courtesy of the Library of Congress.


If a typical LMIG is applied for by the county and accepted by the state, it allows for a certain amount of money to be designated toward a county project with the county being responsible for a percentage of the cost.


Another option for restoration and maintenance of the Shallowford Bridge was presented by a resident saying that it might be possible to have the bridge put on the Historic Register which would allow for extra funding to be received for its preservation and care.


According to the Library of Congress the “Iron Bridge” is one of 50 Pratt truss bridges recorded in the state of Georgia. Three of of the 50 bridges on record reside in Fannin County.


The fate of the new Shallowford Bridge is yet to be determined, but citizens hope that their voices will be heard before a final decision is made.

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Natalie Kissel

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‘Misinformation,’ tiny homes addressed by commissioners

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During the Tuesday, April 24, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board discussed what was described as “misinformation” circulating throughout the county and put a six-month moratorium on tiny homes in the county.

Immediately following public commentary, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee took a moment to address recent comments circulating in the community that suggest the county needs to create a five-year comprehensive plan. Sosebee clarified the county already has a 10-year joint comprehensive plan in place together with the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton, which was created under the guidance of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).

“Without this document (comprehensive plan) right here, we couldn’t get grants. We couldn’t have got the water grant we got. We couldn’t get LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) money to research the roads,” Sosebee added.

Sosebee also stated the source of these comments estimated the population of Fannin County would reach 40,000 within the next few years.

“Well, that’s a lot of people for a county that’s surrounded by forest service land and can’t contain that many people,” Sosebee said.

According to the NWGRC, as noted by Sosebee, Fannin’s population is expected to peak at 24,349 by 2030.

Chairman Stan Helton explained the 10-year comprehensive is a 161-page document that is available to the public through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the www.dca.ga.gov.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “I know sometimes people accidentally spread misinformation, but I want everyone to realize that when you speak information as if it’s true, it affects people who are serving this county. And I don’t like it reflecting negatively on me, myself, that this county doesn’t have a plan in place.”

Later, county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke came to the podium as County Attorney Lynn Doss opened three sealed bids for the purchase of three specialized desks for 911 dispatchers at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road.

As Doss opened the bids, two were revealed to be duplicates bids from Watson Consoles, of Matthews, North Carolina. The Watson bid was for a total of $49,739.23, which includes $37,116.23 for the product, $9,517 for installation, and $3,106 for freight.

The other bid, from Xybix, of Littleton, Colorado, gave a total of $44,257.42, which includes $2,314.74 for sales tax, $4,100 for freight, and $4,775 for installation. Doss explained because the county is tax exempt, the total cost of the Xybix bid would more accurately be just under $42,000.

After Johnson asked Graham if EMA would need to review the specifications of the bids and the director affirmed that the department would, the bids were tabled to the next meeting for approval.

Following this, the conversation again turned to “misinformation,” this time concerning the Fannin County EMA and Fire Department (FCFD).

Certificate of Compliance from the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Counsel for Fannin County Fire Department.

“As stated earlier, there’s been some misinformation out in the public,” Graham said, “that our fire department may not be in compliance with state and federal standards, and I just want to clear that up a little bit. We are in complete compliance with Georgia Fire Safety Training Center, which is the organization that certifies fire departments in the state of Georgia. We actually have a certificate hanging on the wall at each fire station to say that we’re in compliance.”

Showing the one of the certificates to the commissioners, Graham explained although the certificate is dated 2004, the certification remains with the department unless that department becomes non-compliant. Though Graham admitted the department does rely heavily on volunteer firefighters, FCFD has “30 full-time paid employees whose duties include fire fighting, and we have never had a fire call go unanswered.”

Graham also stated the EMA currently has seven total ambulances, four of which are on-duty ambulances and three are make-up ambulances.

After Helton asked about the prospect of doubling the number of firefighters and the cost involved, both Director Graham and Chief Thomas estimated the added cost would be around $1.5 million annually for personnel along with further costs for facility upgrades.

“It’s a shame – by one person spewing misinformation – it is a shame that you have to stand here and talk about this,” Commissioner Johnson told Graham, Thomas, Payne and Cooke. “They know that we’ve had plans, they know exactly that we are state-certified … It’s a shame to me that you have to stand here and defend yourselves over something that one person in an interview just felt like he had to say … All of you have been in government a long time. It’s just election time … I appreciate you all coming up here taking your time and explaining, trying to make the people feel comfortable again.”

In other business, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the board on the prospect of enacting a tiny home ordinance. At the April 10 commissioners meeting, Woody and the board opened a discussion regarding tiny homes but tabled that discussion to the next meeting.

A finished, prefabricated tiny home.

On Tuesday, Woody stated Fannin is one of only four counties (Fannin, Lumpkin, Towns and Union) north of Cherokee County, Georgia, that has not passed some form of zoning. She also added that in surveying 15 nearby counties, none of the counties have specific ordinances on tiny homes and eight are currently considering tiny home ordinances, but of those eight, most have not yet decided on the square footage requirements.

Helton stated one subdivision development for tiny homes was already in the works in the county.

“We do not want to pull the rug out from under him with the investment he’s already made,” Helton said of the developer of the proposed subdivision, “but as we go forward, the concern would be that we don’t want something that is going to negatively affect other property owners in Fannin County.”

When asked about the minimum size of lots currently allowed by the county, Woody stated for a fresh tract of land with its own water and sewer system, lots could be subdivided as small as a one-third (0.33) of an acre though land development recommends no less than a 0.55-acre lot. For separate lots with water wells and septic systems, Woody explained the county recommends between 1.33-acre and 1.5-acre lots.

Johnson stated he was not so much concerned with the size of tiny homes as he was with the size of lots within potential developments and subdivisions for tiny homes.

Helton proposed to the post commissioners the idea of placing a moratorium on building tiny home subdivisions and developments and asked the commissioners for input on an exact time frame for the moratorium. After discussion, it was decided and approved unanimously to enact the moratorium for six months beginning July 1, 2018.

Robin Gazaway, county finance director, presented the monthly budget update for the county through March 31. Overall, according to Gazaway, the county is 25 percent through the fiscal year and 22 percent of its budget has been expended, leaving the county $829,415 under budget.

Departments seeing significant under-budget amounts were Public Roads ($557,168 under budget), Sheriff’s Office ($89,520 under), and Recreations ($27,148 under). Gazaway stated two departments were currently over budget – Fire/EMS/EMA ($34,983 over budget) and Tax Assessors ($18,257 over). She explained Fire/EMS/EMA was over budget because of an ambulance purchase early in the year and the Tax Assessors department was over budget because of the purchase of two vehicles but added that both departments are expected to balance out before the end of the year. The Recreation department was reported to have a $80,768 revenue, which Gazaway stated was due to the collection of gate receipts and increased concessions.

Also, Gazaway said both Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections were up for the year as of March 31. LOST collections, according to Gazaway, stood at $916,490.42 compared to $867,439.17 in the first quarter of 2017. SPLOST collections were $1,209,712.71 as opposed to $1,145,146.18 last year.

After an executive session, the commissioners reconvened and approved three decisions.

The board approved a filing in Superior Court to abate a public safety nuisance on Ada Street. Last month, the board unanimously approved a property on Ada Street to be dilapidated and for it to be condemned.

Also, the board approved to forward with bringing an unauthorized junkyard on Mobile Road into compliance with county ordinances.

Lastly, the board granted Rene Hamby’s transfer to the Public Works department and approved the hiring of Lauren Hein as the new human resources director for county government.

[Featured image: Members of the Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and Fire Department display a Certificate of Compliance from the state. Seen here are, from left, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke.]

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Blue Ridge City Council meeting slated for Tuesday

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Blue Ridge City Council will address a number of agenda items at the final regularly scheduled meeting of the year Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Last month’s meeting was cancelled after three council members had to tend to other obligations and could not attend the meeting.

City Council Member Rhonda Thomas

According to the meeting agenda, Council Member Rhonda Thomas will present a second reading of the city’s amendment to the Electric Shuttle Bus Ordinance. After the reading, the council will vote whether or not to approve the amendment. Thomas is also scheduled to lead discussion about a potential parking deck for the downtown area.

The council will also address an application for the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) for the city, which must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2017, to be eligible to receive potential LMIG funding for 2018.

Traver Aiken, executive director of the Blue Ridge Housing Authority, is scheduled to speak to the council concerning the prospect of waiving Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payments to the city as reimbursement for the Authority’s costs to repair sewer lines on BRHA property earlier this year.

The council will also vote on Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) lease resolutions for the purchase of a vehicle for the Blue Ridge Police Department as well as a trackhoe excavator for the city water department.

Resolutions to apply for Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) grant money for future potential projects, including sewer system upgrades and a water meter replacement project, will also be addressed.

Several purchase invoices will be awaiting approval from the council at the meeting, including three from Carter & Sloope engineering firm, one from Johnson Paving and another from Fortiline Waterworks.

In public commentary, Cesar Martinez, local business owner and president of the Blue Ridge Business Association, is scheduled to address the council.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Back to business for Blue Ridge City Council

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After failing to achieve a quorum at the last month’s meeting, the Blue Ridge City Council met Tuesday, Dec. 12, for their last regularly scheduled meeting of the year.

The Council swiftly moved through a hefty list of agenda items starting with two Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) lease resolutions to purchase vehicles and equipment. The first resolution was to purchase a 2018 Ford Explorer for the Blue Ridge Police Department through a GMA lease for $30,591.58 with a 3.760 percent interest rate. The final payment for the lease will be Dec. 21, 2022, and the city will pay $33,482.22 with included interest.

Next, the city purchased a 2017 Caterpillar track hoe excavator and a 2018 F350 dump truck for the combined price of $85,950.30 through a GMA lease. The interest rate and payment schedule for this purchase is the same as for the previous purchase, and the city will pay $94,071.90 with included interest.

Two other resolutions were for loan acceptances from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA). The first loan, a Clean Water State Revolving loan, for up to $900,000 with a principal forgiveness of $225,000 if all loan funds are drawn will be used for sewer upgrades at Trackside Lane. The other loan, a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan, for up to $250,000 with a principal forgiveness of up to $49,970 if all funds are drawn, will be used for a meter replacement and upgrade project.

The Council also amended a city ordinance through a second reading and adoption to allow an exception for low-speed vehicles or motorized carts in the form of electric shuttle buses to be used on the public streets of the city in an effort to promote economic development downtown.

Blue Ridge City Councilwoman Angie Arp

Bids for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) water system improvement project were reviewed and discussed by the Council. While Mayor Donna Whitener mentioned it was recommended by the city’s water system engineering firm, Carter & Sloope, to proceed with the low bidder for the project, The Renee Group, Inc. of Doraville, Georgia, Councilwoman Angie Arp suggested the possibility of proceeding with the only local bidder, Holloway Trenching, LLC, of Morganton, whose bid was nearly $54,000 over that of The Renee Group. Ultimately, the decision to award the bid was tabled.

A Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) application for a $35,648 grant with a 30 percent was approved by the Council Tuesday. The grant would be used for road work on West First Street from Depot Street to the where West First meets West Main Street.

The Council unanimously agreed to allow the Blue Ridge Housing Authority (BRHA) to forego payment of its final 2016 Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment to the city as reimbursement to the Authority for costs to repair a sewer line and retaining wall at the BRHA’s Boardtown Road apartments. The PILOT payment was for $1,530.75. In addition, the Council approved a $5,500 estimate from Holloway Trenching for further repairs on a six-inch sewer line on BRHA grounds.

The Council discussed, but tabled, a $4,368.80 quote from ETC Communications for a downtown stereo system to be used during events and festivals, such as the recent Light Up Blue Ridge and Christmas parade, until more information could be procured about the safety of the system.

Among the other invoices and quotes approved were:

A $4,500.99 invoice to Johnson Paving for asphalt work on Banks Street;

A $4,094.20 quote from Fortiline Waterworks, of Cartersville, Georgia, for work on city hydrants;

A $4,700 quote from Hayes James engineering firm for mapping and geographic information system (GIS) services;

A $5,670 invoice from Carter & Sloope for general consulting, which included a review of the water drainage issues near Ada Street;

A $3,611.25 invoice from Carter & Sloope for engineering services for a sewer line project on Trackside Lane;

A $17,831.85 invoice from Carter & Sloope for engineering services at the city’s waste water treatment facility; and

A $6,599.60 quote from Peach State Amenities, LLC for three new six-foot long park benches and three 36-gallon trash receptacles.

President of the Blue Ridge Business Association Cesar Martinez

Cesar Martinez, local business owner and president of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA), spoke briefly in public commentary about the success of the recent Light Up Blue Ridge festivities and Christmas parade held Saturday, Nov. 25, in downtown Blue Ridge and informed the Council of upcoming BRBA events, such as the BRBA Christmas Party Dec. 18 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Willow Creek Falls and the eighth annual Fire and Ice Chili Cook-Off in downtown Blue Ridge Feb. 17, 2018.

Near the end of the meeting, Mayor Whitener thanked outgoing council members Arp, Rodney Kendall and Bruce Pack for their service to the Council and the city. Collectively, all three members stated they were appreciative of the opportunity to serve the citizens of Blue Ridge but wished they could have accomplished even more during their tenures. Incoming council members Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis and Robbie Cornelius will join remaining members Harold Herndon and Rhonda Thomas in 2018.

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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