Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oconee County BOC Less Than Enthusiastic about Regionally Important Resource Designations

Caught Off Guard

The report that the Elder Mill and Elder Mill Bridge as well as the Athens Line--the rail line running through the county--have been designated as Regionally Important Resources met with less than an enthusiastic response from Oconee County commissioners Tuesday night.

Lee Carmon, planning director and general counsel for the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, told the Board of Commissioners at its agenda-setting meeting that only two resources had been nominated for Oconee County and both had been accepted by the Commission's Planning Advisory Committee.

Commissioner Jim Luke and Chairman Melvin Davis said they were concerned about the rail line, since it meant that development within a mile on either side of the line could be affected by requirements that the line be protected.

Commissioner Margaret Hale was concerned that she had not been involved in the process.

“I was caught off guard” by the nominations, she said. “While I don’t disagree with the concept,” she said, “I would like someone to have let me know that these things were being done.”

“The county owns the bridge,” she said. “There is a lot of misconception that we don’t. I would like to know what your process is when these things are sent in and they are not sent in by a county official. We’re not notified, so we have no input into your process.”

Commissioner Chuck Horton said he was concerned that private property could be designated as a Regionally Important Resource without the approval of the property owner.

The rail line was nominated by Tony Glenn of Farmington, an avid biker. Glenn told me tonight in a telephone conversation that he made the nomination as an individual. The line could be used for hiking and biking in the future.

Elder Mill and Elder Mill Bridge were nominated by Russ Page, John English, Robert Jahn and Melissa Steele, the leadership of a group called Friends of Elder Mill and Elder Mill Bridge.

Carmon said that the Planning Advisory Committee reviewed 37 nominations.

“The vast majority were from counties,” she said. “We had a few from individuals and a few from organizations."

Carmon said that the two Oconee County selections were among the 24 sent forward for further review by the Regional Commission Council. (The web site lists only 23 selected nominations.) Final decisions will be made in September, she said.

If the two Oconee County sites were to make the final list, large-scale development projects in the county that meet a set standard in terms of size would have to provide some protection for the rail line and the bridge and the mill.

The mill is in private hands, but it and the bridge were at the center of a park proposed by the county in 2007. The Board of Commissioners has not endorsed the park concept and has been unwilling to put any money into it.

BOC members have stated their desire to acquire the mill at some point and to continue to protect it and the covered bridge.

The review of regionally important resources is dictated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

According to Carmon, the process is part of “planning for the impact of new development on these resources.”

A Regionally Important Resource is defined as “a natural or heritage resource that is of sufficient size or importance to warrant special consideration by the local government having jurisdiction over the resource.”

The Athens rail line, Glenn said, dates back to 1888 and was instrumental in the history of Farmington. The line from Bishop to Madison is not in use, he said, though it has not been declared as abandoned.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Six Oconee County Volunteers Gather Data on Water Quality

Stream Checks

Volunteers organized by Friends of Barber Creek drew water samples and filed descriptive reports on nine sites on Barber Creek and its tributaries for the Upper Oconee Watershed Network 13th Annual River Rendezvous today.

The six volunteers were among more than 40 who spread out after a 9 a.m. meeting at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Clarke County to create a portrait of “a day in the life of a watershed.”

The samples gathered will be analyzed to give a picture of the quality of the water in the streams and to be compared with data from previous samplings.

UOWN has limited data on Oconee County streams from the past and made a push to get more volunteers involved in the event today.

Tim Price and I, vice president and president of Friends of Barber Creek, were joined by Cathy Jackson, Janie Price, Bob Isaac and David Jackson in drawing samples and describing the nine sites.

Tim and I attended the training session at the start of the day and then joined the others to create three, two-person teams to visit the sites, all located where roads cross the streams.

Included were three sites in the western part of the county: Barber Creek at Clotfelter road, a tributary to Barber Creek at Rocky Branch road and Barber Creek at Malcolm Bridge road.

Four sites on Mars Hill road were sampled: a tributary of Barber Creek near the QuikTrip under construction at the Mars Hill road and Daniells Bridge road intersection, Barber Creek where it is crossed by Mars Hill road, Parker Branch of Barber Creek near Crooked Creek road and a Barber Creek tributary crossed by Mars Hill road near the blocked entrance to the undeveloped Parkside subdivision.

The final two sites were where Daniells Bridge road crosses Barber Creek and on the tributary of Barber Creek that feeds Lake Wellbrook just before the lake is formed in LakeWellbrook subdivision, which is off Daniells Bridge road.

At each site, the team drew two water samples and completed a form providing data on clarity of the water, amount of algae, signs of erosion of the banks, amount of litter, and other site and stream characteristics.

UOWN has four additional sites on Barber Creek designated for sampling, one near the Barrow County line and three near where Barber Creek joins McNutt Creek, but we didn’t have time to include them today.

Tim and I returned the samples to the Nature Center at 1 p.m.

OUWN also has sites on Calls Creek in Oconee County designated for sampling and was prepared to send volunteers to Rose Creek, but no other Oconee County volunteers were able to join the rendezvous today.

The Oconee County sites are in Zone 3 of the Middle Oconee region of UOWN.

UOWN, formed in 2000, is dedicated to protecting water resources and improving stream health in the Upper Oconee watershed through community-based advocacy, monitoring and education.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Elder Mill Bridge Park Forum Draws Crowd to Oconee County Library

Farmers Plant Seeds

About 35 people showed up at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville tonight to hear citizen activist Russ Page talk about a proposal for a park surrounding Elder Mill Bridge and Elder Mill itself and two Oconee County officials say why the plan for a county park is not feasible.

Page said he has been working on the park for more than two years because he is “convinced the area needs to be protected.” He said that to accomplish this “will take some good ideas from a lot of people.”

Peggy Holcomb, director of tourism for Oconee County, said in the last three years she has only taken 27 groups to see the wooden covered bridge off SR 15 in the southern part of the county and a park “would not be a money maker for us.”

Later in the meeting, however, Holcomb acknowledged that she uses Eagle Tavern in downtown Watkinsville and the Elder Mill Bridge heavily in her promotional materials for the county. She said the bridge also is in the state tourism guidebook, the Antebellum tour guidebook and the Southern Living tour book.

“We use that covered bridge for just about any publication that we use,” she said.

Wayne Provost, strategic and long-range planning director for the county, said the county is expected to cut between $1 and $1.5 million from the budget this year and that money for a county park just isn’t likely to be available.

He said it is necessary to allocate money for maintenance and operation of a park, not just for land acquisition.

Page was undeterred. He said he is a farmer, and farmers plant seeds. He hopes a park will be the outcome.

Jonathan R. Veit organized and moderated the forum, which lasted for an hour and 20 minutes.

Among those attending was Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton and Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis.

Davis said he was in favor of preserving the mill near the bridge because of its historic value to the county. Horton left before the public discussion of the three presentations by Page, Holcomb and Provost and did not speak.

Page said he has set up an account at Athens Land Trust for those who wish to donate money for the park. The check should be sent do and made payable to Athens Land Trust, 2109 W. Broad street, Athens, GA 30606, and contain the notation “for Elder Mill Bridge.”

It also is possible to donate online using the Athens Land Trust donation tool. (At present, it isn't possible to designate "for" except in an address line.)

A complete video recording of the session, including the slide presentation by Page showing pictures from the bridge, the mill and Rose Creek, which flows under the bridge and beside the mill, is on Vimeo.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Elder Mill Bridge Forum Scheduled for Thursday Night At Oconee County Library

Three Points of View

A forum on Elder Mill Bridge is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.

Russ Page, a land-preservation activist and proponent of a park on land surrounding the bridge, Peggy Holcomb, director of tourism for Oconee County, and Wayne Provost, strategic and long-range planning director for the county, have agreed to speak, according to forum organizer Jonathan R. Veit.

Though the forum is intended to be a non-partisan, informational event, it has been endorsed by the Oconee County Democratic Committee, of which Veit is chairman.

According to Veit, Page will talk about the land surrounding the bridge and his efforts to preserve it. Holcomb will talk about the impact of creating the park on tourism, he said, and Provost will talk about “the governmental processes and jurisdictions and hurdles involved.”

In 2007, John Gentry, director of Parks and Recreation for Oconee County, presented the Board of Commissioners a plan for a 580-acre park that would incorporate the wooden, covered Elder Mill Bridge, the nearby Elder Mill itself, and surrounding land, including the historic W. Joe Elder cemetery.

The BOC refused to spend any county money on the project. In January, 2.3 acres of land just used by many visitors to the area to access the shoals of Rose Creek beneath the bridge went onto the market and quickly under contract. What the new owner plans in terms of allowing public access is unclear.

At the town hall style meeting held by the BOC on Feb. 16, Page asked the commissioners about their level of commitment to the proposed park. All five of the commissioners said the county should attempt to purchase the mill, but only Commissioner Margaret Hale spoke in favor of county involvement in a broader park.

Chairman Melvin Davis said on the day of the town hall meeting in an interview on WGUA that there was “not a huge amount of conversation taking place (about the park) but there is a group of folks that desire that.”

To register the amount of support for a park, Veit has created an online petition for people to sign.

At the meeting on Thursday night, each of the three speakers will be given about 15 minutes to talk, Veit said. Then the audience will have the opportunity to comment and ask questions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Upper Oconee Watershed Network Hopes to Focus on Oconee County Stream Water Quality

Waterproof Shoes

The Upper Oconee Watershed Network has put out a special call for volunteers who are interested in monitoring water quality in Oconee County as part of the 13th Annual River Rendezvous scheduled for March 27.

Jessica Sterling, a board member helping to organize the event, said in a recruitment flier sent out last week that UOWN plans this year to focus on streams in Oconee County that have not previously been investigated or have been monitored infrequently.

Included will be Rose Creek and perhaps Little Rose Creek, according to Dave Wenner, another board member and an Oconee County resident.

Wenner said Rose Creek has not been included in past Rendezvous monitoring events but he hopes to take advantage of the recent focus on the creek, which flows beneath the wooden, covered Elder Mill Bridge, and start gathering data on the quality of water.

Nearly 50 people turned out on March 6 for a cleanup of the area around the bridge, which has been proposed as the centerpiece of a county park.

Wenner said he hopes that Barber Creek sites also will be monitored. UOWN has some data on Barber Creek from past years and will be able to track changes across time.

Volunteers will gather at 9 a.m. on the 27th at the Sandy Creek Nature Center off U.S. 441 just outside the Athens Loop. The session will include training in water sampling and assignment of sites.

A light breakfast and coffee also will be included.

Volunteers are advised to wear waterproof shoes and dress for the weather. Children accompanied by an adult are welcome.

The volunteers, who will head to sites in Clarke and other surrounding counties, will return before noon with their samples.

According to Sterling, UOWN will use the water samples to identify polluted streams that require immediate attention and to monitor long-term trends in water quality.

Wenner said he hopes to have enough volunteers to gather data from four or five Rose Creek sites and six or seven Barber Creek sites. Portert Creek, Wildcat Creek and Calls Creek are other streams in Oconee County that could be sampled if enough volunteers show up.

Often volunteers live along a creek or have a special interest in it, Wenner said.

UOWN identifies sites that can be accessed from public rights of way, such as where bridges cross the creeks.

Persons interested in volunteering can contact Sterling at or 706 338 9052 or Wenner at or 706 769 6036.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oconee Commission and Citizens Differ on Elder Mill Park

Technically Correct And Incomplete

Last month’s Oconee County town hall meeting showcased the gap between the views of the members of the Board of Commissioners and those in the county who have been trying to preserve the area around Elder Mill Bridge.

The commissioners are focused on preservation of the mill.

The citizens are focused on preservation of the area around the bridge, including the mill.

The commission is content with the status quo for the bridge.

The citizens say the status quo is untenable.

Russ Page, who worked back in 2007 on plans for a park that would incorporate Elder Mill, Elder Mill Bridge and land around both, asked the first question of the five members of the commission at the Feb. 16 session.

“Do you think it is important, that part of the county, and saving that part of the county, the area immediately surrounding the bridge and the mill?” Page asked. “Number two, what is your plan to do something about it, if you do think it ought to be saved?”

Page asked, in the case in which the county wouldn’t do anything to preserve the area, would it support a citizens’ effort to preserve the area?

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis was the first to answer. He said the county only had $27,000 available to spend from the just-completed 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

“I would like to see from a personal standpoint the Elder Mill secured if we could get it some way or another,” Davis added. “That would be an asset for the county.”

Commissioner Chuck Horton went next, and he said “We are very interested in the mill, but you have got to have somebody who is willing to sell it to us…We were always committed to that mill, to try to get it as a historical place.”

“I think all of us have said we would like to save the mill,” Commissioner Jim Luke said next. Of the park proposal, he added, “I just don’t see any way we can undertake a project like this in the near term.”

“It would be nice to get the mill,” Commissioner John Daniell said. “Again, it is not for sale. It is also being preserved right now. It is not like it is a rush.”

Commissioner Margaret Hale spoke last, and her view was the exception. “I am supportive of this park and the future it can bring and the historical value it can bring to the county, but, as my other colleagues have said, there is no funding for this,” she said.

All of the commissioners said they would support citizens who wanted to try to do something on their own to preserve the area and create a park.

The commissioners' response on funding is technically correct and incomplete.

It also does not make clear that the commissioners explicitly have assigned acquisition of property to preserve the area around the bridge and the mill a lower priority than other recreation and park projects in the county.

As recently as December, the Board voted to spend $94,000 for playground equipment at Herman C. Michael Park, which is located across Hog Mountain road from the new Oconee Veterans Park. The new park has new playground equipment in place.

As Chairman Davis explained at the meeting, the county allocated $5 million from the 2004 SPLOST (approved in 2003), for parks and recreation.

The county made the decision to spend $4 million of that to retire a general obligation revenue bond used to create Veterans Park, though the resolution for the SPLOST did not obligate the county to that amount.

The county also has taken in $631,266 more than it projected from the 2004 SPLOST, and it has earned interest of $861,049 on the amount collected as of the end of January of 2010, meaning it is today sitting on at least $1,492,315 in unspent and unallocated money from the 2004 SPLOST.

County Finance Director Jeff Benko has told me that the county can spend that money however it likes, meaning, if Benko is correct, all of it could be used for parks and recreation.

If even 20 percent of those funds were set aside for parks and recreation, reflecting the ratio of the original SPLOST ($5 million for parks and recreation out of $25 million), the county would have $298,463 at present to spend for that purpose.

County Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry, in a letter to the commissioners written on Aug. 23, 2007, said that it was his priority that the county start investing immediately in the proposed Elder Mill Park.

“My recommendation to you first and foremost is to fully support the conceptual plan” for the park, Gentry wrote. He also said he recommended committing $233,500 immediately to start moving on the land acquisition for the project, which would take 15 to 20 years to complete.

Gentry said that $452,000 in SPLOST 2004 funds “is not earmarked for any particular project at this time” and that these funds could be used for the new park.

He said that plans were to use this money for “additional site amenities…for the OCC and other parks” in the county” and that committing the funds to the new park “would delay purchasing some of these items with SPLOST 2004.”

If the BOC was unwilling to spend SPLOST funds to start acquisition of land for Elder Mill Park, Gentry said the county could use monies from other tax sources for the project.

OCC stood for Oconee Community Complex, which is now called Oconee Veterans Park.

The BOC rejected Gentry’s proposal and refused to commit any SPLOST or general funds to the project.

Mary Mellein, a long-time citizen activist and president of the Keep Oconee Clean and Beautiful Commission, waited until late in the meeting to follow up on Page’s first question about the park.

She was concerned that development around the bridge would threaten the bridge itself.

“You’ve talked about the mill but you haven’t mentioned the covered bridge. It is my understanding there is willing land owners around that bridge. If we lose that land, we lose the bridge because the bridge cannot accommodate traffic even if it is broken up into very large lots. And it would be a sad thing to lose.”

“The county owns the covered bridge,” Davis said in response. He again said the county lacked money to purchase the land around it.

Luke chimed in to say the county supported the 2007 proposal but was not willing to spend any money on it. “We just didn’t have money to put into buying” property because of commitments made to the other parks in the county, he said.

At present, the bridge carries a single lane of traffic across a gravel section of Elder Mill road. If the land around the bridge were developed, it would create additional traffic on the bridge.

Gentry, in his 2007 letter, recommended moving forward on land acquisition to make it possible to close that section of Elder Mill road to local traffic as a way of protecting the bridge.

Chip Chandler from Madison County was the third and last person to speak about the proposed park at the town hall meeting. He said the Watson Mill Park in his county was a “big draw” and suggested even some scaled-back park around Elder Mill Bridge could have positive impact on the economy of Oconee County.

Commissioners Hale, Luke and Horton again said the issue was a matter of money.

After the meeting, I talked one-on-one with Luke about the property just west of the bridge that had been owned by Al Cuming and went on the market in January.

Luke told me that the Cuming property was “not important” to the county. “It is across the creek from the mill,” he said.

He also said he didn’t think the county should have bought the Cuming property under any circumstance because it has a house on it.

In addition, Luke said, “the county doesn’t move that quickly.”

The scope of the proposed project clearly is an issue for many members of the commission. Luke said at the town hall meeting that the proposal he saw back in 2007 “scared me to death.”

That plan for the park was drawn up by Williams and Associates in June of 2007 and included 10 to 12 different properties, depending on how the properties are counted.

The park stretched from SR 15 to Saxon road, but at the center was the wooden covered bridge and the mill.

The bridge carries Elder Mill road across Rose Creek. Just to the east of the bridge, on the south side of Elder Mill road, are 6 acres owned by Charles Morgan. The mill sits on this site.

Just to the west of the bridge, on the south side of Elder Mill road, is the former residence of Cuming, who was a strong advocate for the bridge and who allowed visitors to the bridge to walk across his property to the shoals of Rose Creek just downstream from the bridge.

Cuming no longer lives on the property, which went under contract a few weeks after it went on the market.

Just north of the bridge, on both sides of the creek, is one of three linked parcels owned by Elizabeth Dolvin and conservator Ray Burress, according to county tax records. Total acreage for the three parcels is 260, but the parcel at the bridge probably is less than 40 acres.

The Watkinsville Garden Club has a small garden on this property at the eastern side of the bridge.

Ellen Vaughn, who has been with the Garden Club since 1972 and was president in 1991, told me in a telephone conversation in early February that the Club started the garden at the Elder Mill Bridge in 1972 to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

She said the Club received permission from the landowner to use the property. “We do have it is writing,” she said.

View Elder Mill Road in a larger map

The county’s Scenic Preservation overlay district covers all of the property formerly owned by Cuming, much of the property on which the mill sits, about a third of the roughly 40 acre Dolvin tract, and the majority of a 23-acre tract owned by James Flanagan.

The county Unified Development Code severely restricts what owners of the affected properties can do, making these four properties of about 70 acres an obvious core for any park incorporating the bridge and the mill.

The Williams concept plan also included other properties for a total of 580 acres, which would make the park about the same size as the county’s two largest parks combined, Heritage Park with 275 acres and Veterans Park with 198 acres.

The assessed property value of the land covered by the Williams plan is just less than $6.2 million.

Tim Bryant of WGAU radio interviewed Chairman Davis on the morning of the town hall meeting and began with a question on the proposed park. “What are you hearing from your constituents on that?” Bryant asked.

“Well, I think if we had the money to spend, and was able to acquire that property or at least a portion of that property, I think that would satisfy and would, most of the citizens would appreciate that,” Davis said.

He again said it was a matter of money and that the mill was the priority.

“To be able to acquire another 200 acres at fully county funded, sources, might be more difficult at this point in time,” he said.

“Yes, that is one of the subjects we are hearing from the public,” Davis said. “Not a huge amount of conversation taking place but there is a group of folks that desire that and it is a good, worthwhile project if we had the funds to acquire it.”

Citizens who want to move forward with plans for the park even without county support have formed a group called Friends of Elder Mill and Elder Mill Bridge. Page, John English, Robert John and Melissa Steele make up the leadership of the group.

General interest in the area seems to be increasing.

Steele organized a successful clean-up of Rose Creek, Little Rose Creek and Elder Mill road on March 6 that was attended by about 50 volunteers.

Jonathan Veit is organizing a public discussion of the proposed park for later this month as a way of keeping it on the agenda.

Veit also has organized an online petition regarding the park.

The full town-hall meeting is viewable on my Vimeo site. In addition, I edited the three exchanges involving Elder Mill into a shorter clip, also on my Vimeo site. (The embedded video above contains only answers.)

Friday, March 05, 2010

Oconee County Land Use Committee Being Asked To Act

Come See Me

At least some pressure is building on the Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning to come up with a recommendation for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners regarding the future of the county courthouse.

The committee meets again on Tuesday night, and Chairman Abe Abouhamdan has been pushing in recent meetings for the committee to reach some sort of decision. The group has heard from a wide range of county officials since it started deliberating on the issue in April of last year.

The BOC sent the matter to the citizen committee in March of 2009 to get citizen input.

At the town hall meeting on Feb. 16, Commissioner Jim Luke expressed disappointment that no citizen had asked about the issue at the first town hall meeting in October or again that night.

“I’m disappointed again that that question did not come up,” Luke said. “I know somebody has to have an opinion on that somewhere.”

While Luke said “We’re in no hurry,” he also said “I think it is going to be critical. I think what we do now is going to affect people 50 and 100 years from now.”

“I just can’t stir up anybody who has an opinion,” Luke said.

Luke said he didn’t feel it was necessary to give out his telephone number so people could call him, “since most of you know where I am.” Luke owns Luke Hardware in Butler’s Crossing and on Atlanta Highway.

“Come see me,” he said.

Luke attended the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting in February but did not participate in the discussion.

The Committee has been struggling with four options it has identified: (1) Keep all government activities in one place, (2) Separate judicial and administrative activities, (3) Do nothing, and (4), Combine administrative operations with the Oconee County Board of Education.

Abouhamdan has said he hopes to have the committee vote on these at the meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the community center in Veteran’s Park on Hog Mountain road.

The Committee has not spent time talking about where joint or separate facilities might be located, but two locations were mentioned briefly by members of the Committee at its February meeting.

The two mentioned sites were land adjacent to the current courthouse and land adjacent to the property recently purchased by the Board of Education for future administrative offices. That second site is on North Main street north of the current courthouse but separate from it.

Luke told me in a conversation we had after the formal part of the meeting on Feb. 16 that he has another property in mind. He said the county could acquire land on the U.S. 441 bypass from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In an email message to me on Feb. 18, Luke elaborated on his comments in our conversation.

“The U.S.D.A. owns about 12 acres in the city limits, inside the 441 bypass and not being used for research,” Luke wrote. “I spoke to their director a couple of years ago and he seemed receptive to discussions.”

County tax records show three Southern Piedmont Experiment Station properties at the intersection of U.S. 441 and Experiment Station road that are separated from the main farmland and research facilities on the northwest corner of that intersection.

The largest of these–19.34 acres--is on the northeast corner and is largely inside the city limits of Watkinsville. Any court facility must be in the county seat. The property is separated from the jail by another piece of property owned by James P. Pallas of Hull.

Another, smaller piece of U.S.D.A. land is on the southeast corner of the U.S. 441 and Experiment Station road intersection. It is an oddly shaped 8.64 acre tract inside the city limits that borders Harris Shoals Park.

The third property, on the southwest corner, is outside city limits at present. It is 14.58 acres.

View Oconee County Courthouse, Watkinsville in a larger map

Luke said his concern with the available property around the current courthouse is traffic congestion. He said that makes the property on the bypass particularly attractive.

As of June 30, 2009, the county was sitting on just less than $4.3 million in unspent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue from the levy passed back in 2003 that has been designated for “county facilities expansion and renovation.”

The BOC did vote last month to spend $170,000 from that fund on renovation of the Government Annex on Greensboro road south of Watkinsville.

County Finance Director Jeff Benko reported earlier this year that the county received $631,266 more in SPLOST revenues than the projected $25 million. In addition, he has indicated that the unspent money was earning revenue.

An open records request I filed on Feb. 14 shows that the county has earned interest of $861,049 on unspent funds as of January of 2010.

The records also show that the county transferred $8.5 million to purchase two Certificates of Deposit in June of 2009. The interest income upon maturity is not reflected in the figures I obtained, Benko informed me today.

Benko told me that one of the CDs is for $7.5 million and is for 12 months. The other was for $1 million and was for six months.

Benko said he has checked with the county attorney and that the BOC has complete discretion in how it spends the $1.5 million in excess funds. He said this was the way excess funds from an earlier SPLOST were handled.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Oconee County Groups Planning Two Events For Elder Mill Bridge

Long Sleeves, No Dogs

Two events are in the planning that will highlight Elder Mill Bridge and the land around it, which at least some people in the county feel should be set aside as a county park.

Melissa Steele has set for Saturday her cleanup of Rose Creek, including sections upstream and downstream from the covered bridge, as well as of Little Rose Creek, which feeds into Rose Creek south of the historic bridge.

Jonathan Veit has tentatively set March 25 as the date for a “town hall forum” to discuss creation an Elder Bridge Park.

Veit also has created an online petition that people can sign to support creation of a park around the wooden bridge.

Steele is expecting between 30 and 35 people to show up for the Saturday morning cleanup, which will begin at 9 a.m. with a breakfast at Antioch Church Fellowship Hall on Antioch Church road, 8.4 miles south of downtown Watkinsville off SR 15.

After breakfast, the volunteers will get a safety briefing, maps and further instructions before being divided into teams and heading out to designated sites on Rose Creek and Little Rose Creek or on Elder Mill road itself, which crosses the two creeks.

Steele and others involved in organizing the event will provide bottled water, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, bug spray, gloves and trash bags.

“You will get your feet wet if you are going to be on one of the creek teams,” Steele wrote in an email message to volunteers on Monday, “so be prepared for that with shoes you don’t mind getting wet.”

Steele is advising volunteers to bring along a fanny pack or day pack, dry socks and shoes, and a hat. She also recommends long sleeved shirts and long pants. “There are lots of briars and stickers along the creek,” she noted.

Volunteers are asked not to bring dogs.

Each volunteer will be required to sign a liability waiver, based on the one used for the Rivers Alive stream cleanup program in the state.

The cleanup will be moved to March 13 if it rains this Saturday.

Anyone with questions should call Steele at 706 255 8528 or email her at

Veit said the scheduling of his town hall forum is not settled but “it will happen.”

Although the activity has been approved by the Oconee County Democratic Committee, of which Veit is chairman, the forum is nonpartisan and open to the public, Veit said. He is currently lining up speakers.

The petition that Veit put online reads:

“We urge the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to make every effort possible to acquire the land surrounding the Elder Covered Bridge in an effort to create an Elder Bridge Park.

“Acquisition of the land surrounding the bridge would enable both tourists and Oconee County residents to enjoy the historic covered bridge and the shoals on Rose Creek. It would also represent a critical first step toward implementing a 2007 plan for a county park in the area. Given the scenic and historic values of the Elder Bridge area, and tourism dollars it could produce for the county, it should be a high priority for preservation.”

Veit said in an email message he sent out on Monday that he “tried to find a petition site that wasn’t too filed with advertisements. Unfortunately, that isn’t very easy.”

After signing the petition, the signer is asked to donate to support the online site itself, but it is possible to close the page without making any contribution.

Veit can be reached at Victory Communications in Watkinsville at 706 255 0222.