The newly appointed Sounding Board on the widening of U.S. 441 and construction of a bypass of Bishop is set to hold its first meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Community Center, 4951 U.S. 441 in Bishop.
Attendees will include legislators, Georgia Department of Transportation officials, and 441 Sounding Board members, according to an announcement released by Oconee County Clerk Jane Greathouse early this afternoon and now on the county web site.
Because of that action, the Sounding Board falls under the state’s Open Meetings Act, meaning that the Tuesday session will be open to the public.
Davis presented the commissioners with his list of members of what he called a “Sounding Board” on Tuesday evening and said the group would meet with GDOT “very soon” so the eight citizens could learn of the process to be followed in developing the plans for the roadway.
Davis said he had already talked with Sen. Bill Cowsert and Rep. Chuck Williams, who represent Oconee County in the General Assembly, about the possibility of meeting with the Sounding Board once it was appointed. The video clip below includes those comments by Davis.
GDOT is designed to be independent of the legislature, with its funding coming from designated taxes. The General Assembly passed an increase in those fuel taxes and added a special hotel tax in January to bolster GDOT funding.
The legislature also appoints the members of the state Transportation Board, which, in principle, governs GDOT.
The district’s representative to that Transportation Board is Athens commercial real estate broker Jamie Boswell, whom Cowsert and Williams, along with other area legislators, selected in a closed-door session in 2013.
Carole Ludwig, whose farm lies in the path of one proposed route for the Bishop bypass, said at the BOC meeting on Tuesday night that “We’re not getting good information and we’re getting conflicting information” about the project.
Davis responded by saying he agreed “there has been a lot of misinformation out there” and “one of the desires all of us have is a more cohesive information process.”
Davis, however, added to the confusion in his regular column in The Oconee Enterprise this week. The column also appears on the county web site.
Davis wrote that “To my knowledge, as well as our state legislators’ knowledge, no current and recommended route has been surveyed or approved for the Bishop Bypass.”
Minutes Of Meeting
Davis attended a Nov. 30 meeting of the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS) where a number of local farmers and landowners told GDOT representatives that surveyors had been on their properties in recent months.
In addition, the minutes of a June 16 meeting that Davis organized with GDOT officials show that GDOT has a route that it is using as a starting point for reactivation of the previously dormant widening project.
I obtained those minutes and the maps referenced through open records requests, and the maps are here:
Williams In Attendance
My open records request turned up additional information from that June 16 meeting, including this document dated July 22, 2014, which shows a map of what is designated at a preliminary route. That route seems to match the maps above.
That same map appears in a concept report dated July 17, 2007, used by GDOT for the June 16 meeting.
A third document from that meeting, dated Aug. 15, 2005, also lists what is called a preliminary route that matches those in the other documents.
A fourth document includes a map of alternatives to the Bishop bypass. The route designated as “preliminary” seems to match the route in Sheet 3 above.
Rep. Williams, as well as Transportation Board member Boswell, were in attendance at that June 16 meeting, according to the minutes.
Open Meetings Act
I sent a message on Thursday morning to County Clerk Greathouse, copied to County Attorney Daniell Haygood, Davis and the other four commissioners, asking to be notified of the meetings of the Sounding Board.
I pointed out the requirement of the Open Meetings Act that groups appointed by the BOC publicize meetings, provide an agenda, and publish minutes.
When I did not hear back from Greathouse, I wrote again early this morning.
Greathouse wrote back to me a about an hour later saying “Notification regarding the meeting will be posted on the website. I expect that to happen by the end of today once the details are finalized.”
Greathouse sent me a notice of the meeting just after 2 p.m. today, saying the announcement “should be on the website soon.”
Transfer To City
The meeting on Tuesday should be one of the last held in the Bishop Community Center while that building is still under county control.
At the BOC meeting on Tuesday commissioners agreed to convey the property to the City of Bishop.
The actual transfer will take place at the first of the year.
The transfer has been in the works for months and was delayed while the county did repairs to the property to make it more suitable for city use.