Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Mars Hill Road Phase I Widening Is On Schedule, Oconee County Citizen Committee Members Told

***Next Phase Also Progressing***

Construction of Phase I of the Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road project is on schedule, and county leaders are hopeful that construction on Phase II will begin as work on Phase I is completed at the end of May of next year.

Oconee County Public Works Director Emil Beshara gave that report to the Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning last week.

Beshara, responding to questions from the Committee, labeled a connector between SR 15 and U.S. 441 in the south of the county as the “number one need for a road that doesn’t exist today.”

The Land Use Committee also got a brief summary of the work of the citizen Stakeholders Committee working on the revision of the county’s Comprehensive Plan from citizens who sit on both committees.

Tommy Malcom highlighted what he expects will be a recommendation in the Comprehensive Plan that development be spread around the county rather than concentrated along the Epps Bridge Parkway corridor.

Beshara’s Summary

Abe Abouhamdan, chair of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, invited Beshara to update the Committee on the Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road project at the very beginning of the Nov. 14 meeting in the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park.

Beshara At Meeting 11/14/2017

Beshara said the first phase of the project, from SR 316 to Butler’s Crossing, is “on schedule to be complete by the end of May of next year.”

Contractor G.P.’s Enterprises Inc. switched traffic from one side of the future four-lane road to the other last month, Beshara said, and will switch traffic at least one more time before the project is completed.

Much of the work underway at present involves pouring concrete for curbs, gutters and sidewalks, he said.

“The project is going along really very smoothly,” Beshara said. “I think that there has been minimal interruption or disruption of traffic to date.”

Phases II And III

Beshara told the Land Use Committee that right of way acquisition and design work for Phase II of the project is complete.

Phase II is from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 bypass of Watkinsville.

Funding for construction is now set for Fiscal Year 2019, Beshara said, and “We’re hopeful that it will move even farther forward, hopefully to the point where they let a construction contract next year.”

Phase III, which extends from the bypass to downtown Watkinsville, is “long range and unfunded,” Beshara said.

Beshara labeled the design work for Phase III as “largely useless” because regulations and design criteria have changed in the 25 years since the project was initiated.

Responded To Questions

Following the presentation on the Mars Hill Road project, Beshara responded to a wide range of questions raised by the members of the Land Use Committee.

Beshara said he expects work on the intersection of Rocky Branch Road, Mars Hill Road and Virgil Langford Road will get underway in the next two weeks.

Turn lanes and a traffic signal will be added to the intersection.

He said work is progressing on the flyover at the Oconee Connector and SR 316 and that the state has plans for a new bridge on Malcom Bridge Road over Barber Creek.

Beshara said the county is upgrading Hog Mountain Road to accommodate the new Dove Creek Elementary School near the Barrow County Line and that he isn’t optimistic about improvements to Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing.

Hog Mountain Road is a state route and under state control.

Bishop Bypass

Beshara made it clear he believes a bypass of Bishop will be incorporated into the plans to widen the roadway from Madison to Watkinsville.

Earlier this year the state proposed dropping plans for a bypass from the design.

Beshara said the Georgia Department of Transportation has “construction funding for the Bishop Bypass, I believe, in the 2019 Fiscal Year. Which would mean they should pick an alignment quick and start the design and start right of way acquisition.”

Beshara told me in an email message the next day that he reviewed the plans and that he had incorrectly stated that the bypass was mentioned in the GDOT funding documents. He said he relayed that correction to the members of the Land Use Committee.

SR 15 And U.S. 441 Connector

Beshara said a connector between SR 15 and U.S. 441 south of Watkinsville originally was to follow Green Ferry Road from SR 15 to Colham Ferry Road and then create a new roadway through to U.S. 441.

Current thinking is that a connector would follow the exiting route of Astondale Road, he said.

“The reality is that road is not going to happen until the Bishop Bypass design is settled,” Beshara said.

Beshara said that connector, ‘in my opinion, is the number one road that doesn’t exist that we need in Oconee County.”

Comprehensive Plan

Several members of the Land Use Committee also are on the Stakeholders Committee working on the revision of the Comprehensive Plan.

Malcom, who is on both committees, said the Land Use Committee can help the Comprehensive Plan Stakeholders Committee to “identify another area in the county” other than the Epps Bridge Parkway corridor for development.

He mentioned the areas around the University of North Georgia, at the intersection of Hog Mountain Road and U.S. 78, and Bishop as places where the county might “kind of encourage another growth magnet.”

“I think we have to be realistic and we can’t expect everybody to come into Oconee and then run out there for everything,” Malcom said in reference to Epps Bridge Parkway. “Is there a way that we can kind of help manage that long term?”

Abouhamdan’s response was positive, calling Malcom’s observation “definitely a good point.”

Meeting Updates

The next meeting of the Stakeholders Committee for the Comprehensive Plan has been rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park.

MACORTS (Madison Athens Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study) will hold a drop-in meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 27, also at the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park.

The meeting is to discuss the inclusion of “safety performance targets” in the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan and the FY 18 – 21 Transportation Improvement Program.

The Georgia Department of Transportation sent out a newsletter to those interested in the upgrade to U.S. 441 last week, saying that GDOT will hold “Public Information Open Houses” in Morgan County and Oconee County at some unspecified date.

At the meetings, the public will have the “opportunity to review and comment on the revised conceptual roadway alignments before any decisions are finalized,” according to the newsletter.

In addition, the newsletter said that ecologists are in the area conducting field surveys and that archeological surveys also will be undertaken shortly.

The newsletter said that GDOT had sent letters to property owners in the U.S. 441 corridor advising them that people would be coming onto their property to conduct the archeological surveys.


The video of the entire meeting of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee is below.

Beshara’s comments on Mars Hill start at 2:54.

The discussion of the Bishop Bypass starts at 12:37.

The discussion regarding a connector between SR 15 and U.S. 441 starts at 46:35.

The Comprehensive Plan discussion begins at 49:05.

OCO: LUTPC 11 14 17 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Fishing Enthusiasts And Paddlers Will Have Access To Hard Labor Creek Reservoir In January

***Date Not Yet Set***

Area fishermen and fisherwomen as well as kayakers and canoeists will have a new lake to explore early next year.

The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in southeastern Walton County is still filling, but Project Manager Jimmy Parker told the reservoir Management Board last week that he expects the lake will be open for allowed recreational use shortly after the first of the year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Oconee County Development Authority Subcommittee Not Unified On How To Respond To Prospect For Gateway Park

***Sell Land Or Lease Building?***

The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority Subcommittee on the Gateway Technology and Business Park met for nearly an hour on Monday without producing any sign of consensus on how to respond to an expression of interest for land in the Gateway property.

Rick Waller, who is chair of the IDA, favors constructing a building to sell or lease to the possible tenant as a way for the IDA to make money.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Oconee County Board Of Education Gives Final Approval To Redistricting Plan For System’s Elementary Schools

***No Parents Showed Up To Protest***

The Oconee County Board of Education voted unanimously tonight (Monday) to approve the redistricting plan put forward by school administrators on Sept. 18 to accommodate the new Dove Creek Elementary school set to open next academic year.

None of the parents of students currently in Malcolm Bridge Elementary School who will be moved to Rocky Branch Elementary School next year spoke up at the meeting, though they registered their unhappiness with the plan at a meeting with the Board on Oct. 10.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Oconee County Industrial Development Authority To Discuss Constructing And Leasing A Building At Its Business Park

***Three Prospects Noted***

A subcommittee of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority is meeting tomorrow (Monday) to discuss how to respond to expressions of interest from at least three companies in the county’s Gateway Technology Business Park on SR 316 on the southern edge of Bogart.

J.R. Charles, Oconee County Economic Development director, told the IDA members at their regular meeting last month of the “prospect activity” regarding Gateway by three companies he identified only by code name.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Oconee County Commission Awards Bid For Demolition Of Old Jail As Part Of Expansion Of Courthouse In Watkinsville

***Security Upgrade***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night awarded a bid of $92,000 to Complete Demolition Services LLC of Carrollton for demolition of the Old Jail located behind the Courthouse in Watkinsville.

Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes cast the sole negative vote on the contract after Commission Chair John Daniell argued that expansion of the Courthouse into the space now occupied by the unused jail will provide for the needs of court services to at least 2050.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Oconee County Board Of Education Members Offer Support For Elementary School Redistricting Plan

Vote Next Week

The Oconee County Board of Education gave no indication at its work session on Monday that it is likely to ask the administration of the county school system to modify the proposed redistricting plan for the county’s elementary schools.

Board Chair Tom Odom and Board members Tim Burgess and Wayne Bagley did ask questions of the school administration reflecting the comments made by citizens about the plan at the Board’s Oct. 10 Listening Session.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Democrats Win Special Elections in House Districts 117 And 119, With Clarke County Voters Dominating

***Reverses Republican Redistricting***

Oconee County voters turned out in big numbers on election day, with a plurality picking Democrat Jonathan Wallace to represent voters in Georgia House District 119 and a majority picking Houston Gaines to represent voters in Georgia House District 117.

Wallace won strongly in the Clarke County part of the evenly split 119th District, ending with 56.7 percent of the votes in the unofficial tally--enough to avoid a runoff on Dec. 5.

Democrat Deborah Gonzalez dominated voting in Clarke County, giving her 53.1 percent of the votes in the 117th, which, in addition to Clarke County and Oconee County, includes parts of Barrow and Jackson counties.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Oconee County Commissioners Being Asked To Consider Slab Construction For Malcom Bridge Road Subdivision

***Rejected In 2007***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners tomorrow (Tuesday) night will be asked to decide if it wants to modify its 2007 rezone for a 100-acre subdivision on Malcom Bridge Road to accommodate the request of the developer to allow construction on raised slabs.

The Board of Commissioners in 2007 specifically stated that all houses constructed within the development were to be built using a crawl space or basement foundation, and the current land owners are asking the Board to overturn that decision.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Individual Sessions Held For Four Candidates For Georgia House District 119 Offer Insights Into Their Characteristics

***Spread Across Campaign***

In individual sessions held with the Oconee County Area Republicans in recent weeks, the three Republican candidates in the special election on Tuesday for Georgia House District 119 have shown rather different characteristics.

Tom Lord took few firm stands in a session with a small number of Republicans gathered on Sept. 30, using the 50 minutes given him instead to get feedback and suggestions from those who turned out to meet him. He focused on his trustworthiness and his conservative values.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Early Voting Ends With Fewer Than 5,000 Voters Casting Ballots In House District 117 And House District 119 Races

***Few Barrow And Jackson Voters***

A total of 4,798 voters cast ballots in early voting that ended today (Friday) for the special elections for Georgia House District 117 and Georgia House District 119.

House District 117, which includes parts of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson and Oconee counties, had 2,165 voters, while House District 119, split equally between Clarke and Oconee counties, had 2,633 votes cast.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Work On Oconee County Comprehensive Plan Update For 2018 Moves Into Final Stages

***Some Issues Unresolved***

Planner Justin Crighton, having completed meetings in the last two weeks with the three subcommittees working on the update to the Oconee County Comprehensive Plan, now has the task of assembling the citizen input into a draft report.

Crighton, with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, has promised to present the draft to the full Stakeholders Committee on Nov. 20, but he’ll have to resolve some differences in opinion among the Committee members before that time.