Milestone Monday SR 17 Beam Setting

The first set of beams for the new Highway 17 bridge over Eastanollee Creek are in place after being set on Monday.

Georgia Department of Transportation Spokesperson Teri Pope said crews completed all of the work that was planned for Monday without any major problems.

“We set all six beams that we had planned to set,” said Pope. “It went well. The beams did arrive later than expected because they got caught in Atlanta traffic, but they did get there shortly after lunch and we were able to set all six beams as planned.”

The pre-stressed concrete bridge beams are 127 feet long and six feet tall.

Pope said each beam was custom designed for one place in this bridge, like a puzzle piece that will only fit in one place.

She said at some point, more beams will have to be set as the bridge construction continues.

The construction of this new bridge over Eastanollee Creek is part of the larger project to make Highway 17 a four-lane highway from Memorial Drive in Toccoa to the Stephens-Franklin County line.

Work started last Fall and Pope said that the DOT hopes crews will make significant progress through the construction season this Spring and Summer.


“We are hoping you are going to see a lot more progress a lot more rapidly on the 17 widening project,” said Pope. “We want to remind you that it is a work zone and all fines are doubled in work zones. Please remember to slow down and obey all of those traffic rules as you drive through the work zone.”

Construction of the new, four-lane Highway 17 is scheduled to be complete by May 31, 2016.

Roberts Named Regional STAR Student

Stephens County STAR Student Connor Roberts is named the 2014 Region 2 Winner for the STAR Student competition. The Stephens County High School senior is the son of Barry and Lynn Roberts of Toccoa. For the regional STAR honors, Roberts received a $500 cash award provided by the PAGE Foundation. As a Region 2 STAR student, Connor will now compete for the honor of being named the State STAR Student.

The STAR, or Student Teacher Achievement Recognition, program is in its 56th year and is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and the Georgia Department of Education. To obtain the STAR nomination, high school seniors must have the highest score on a single test date on the three-part SAT and be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average.

Connor received a 2380 on his SAT out of 2400 and will study Economics at Harvard University.

Stephens Co. Unemployment Drops Slightly

Stephens County sees its unemployment rate drop slightly to start 2014. State labor department numbers show that Stephens County had a preliminary January unemployment rate of 6.9 percent. That is one-tenth of a percentage point lower than the revised December 2013 rate of 7.0 percent. It is also a full 2.3 percentage points lower than the revised January 2013 unemployment rate of 9.2 percent. The total January labor force for Stephens County was 12,867. Of that, 11,976 people were listed as employed in Stephens County in January and 891 were listed as unemployed. Labor Department figures show that the labor force in Stephens County increased by just over 100 from December to January, but is still about 500 less than it was in January 2013. About 100 more people were employed in Stephens County in January than were in December, while the number of unemployed remained about the same. Meanwhile, approximately 150 fewer people were employed this past January in Stephens County than were employed in January 2013, while the number of unemployed has dropped by about 350. Looking at other area counties, Franklin County’s preliminary unemployment rate stayed the same at 8.2 percent in January; Habersham County saw its preliminary January unemployment rate jump a percentage point to 7.6 percent; and Banks County’s preliminary unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point in January to 5.5 percent.
Charlie Bauder

Study Discusses NGTC Economic Impact on Area

A recent study states that the economic impact of North Georgia Technical College on the area it serves adds up to $35.2 million. The study was recently conducted by a University of Georgia economist and commissioned by the Technical College System of Georgia. It looked at how much the area served by North Georgia Tech benefited economically from spending that is either directly or indirectly related to the college.
It was part of a larger study that details his analysis of economic data from the Technical College System of Georgia for the 2012 fiscal year. The study also found that the North Georgia Technical College’s spending results in 452 public and private sector jobs in its service area. That service area includes Stephens, Fannin, Union, Towns, Habersham, White, Rabun, and Franklin counties. North Georgia Technical College President Dr. Gail Thaxton said that the study validates the tremendous impact of the partnership of mutual support the college nurtures and enjoys with the community.

Stephens Co. Commission Passes Land Use Ordinance

Land use is coming to Stephens County.

County commissioners approved the land use ordinance by a vote of 4-1 during their meeting Tuesday morning.

Stephens County Commission Chairman Dean Scarborough said that while the ordinance may not be perfect, he feels it is needed.

“I could not be more certain that we have the need and this is the time,” said Scarborough.  “I will be able to sleep at night without one iota of concern that I am making the wrong decision.”

Stanley London was the lone commissioner to vote against the ordinance.

He called the land use ordinance a double-edged sword, saying it is not a cure-all and could cause problems down the road despite what may be good intentions.

“Think about it,” said London.  “Let’s not make a hasty decision.  Yes, this has been going on for 30 years, but something this delicate that is going to face and affect every citizen in this county, we need to know what we are doing before we jump into it.”

Prior to the motion to pass the land use ordinance, London made a motion to postpone the vote, create a moratorium on certain developments, and put the issue on the ballot for the county’s voters to have a say.  It failed for lack of a second.

As part of the motion to approve land use, county commissioners agreed to have a quarterly review of the ordinance to work on it and consider changes.

That was put forward by Commissioner Dennis Bell.

He voted for the ordinance, saying that while he was very split on this, he feels this is needed to protect the citizens of the county and help with economic development.

At the same time, Bell said he also hears and understands those that have concerns and feels the meetings to review the ordinance are crucial.

“When we meet on this, we need to take it to heart and make sure it is done the correct way to make sure our citizens are taken care of out there,” said Bell.

Approval came after a 90-minute public hearing on the ordinance that brought out both sides of the issue.

Speaking as a private citizen, Toccoa Mayor Gail Fry said the community needs to protect itself from things that might have a negative impact on the whole community.

Fry said that Wilbros’ owner Joe Wilbanks said in court he came to Stephens County because there was no zoning.

“If we have no zoning, other Joe Wilbanks are out there and they are going to do what they want to do,” said Fry.

However, opponents point out that Wilbros is grandfathered in and say that businesses with enough money can still figure out a way around the ordinance.

Former State Representative Michael Harden said he also worries about loosely defined language in the ordinance.

“We cannot write ordinances for this commission or the next commission,” said Harden.  “When we write laws, we have to assume that they are going to be interpreted by the worst commission.  Although I have confidence in you guys that you would interpret a lot of this language well, I do not have confidence in the worst commission to come, whether it be next year or 20 years from now.”

Harden also said he feels the ordinance unfairly puts stricter rules on trailers and mobile home parks.

Supporters point out that the ordinance is a document that can be changed and amended later to fix problems or unintended consequences.
By Charlie Bauder 

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Congratulations to the Leadership 2014 Classes

Graduating members of the adult 2-13-2014 Leadership Toccoa-Stephens County (LTSC class were (front, from left) Brooke Stowe, Jan Crawford, Molly Hicks, Kayla Carpenter, Christy LeCroy, Mandy McDonald, Phyllis Morris, and Joni Hicks. 
Graduating members of the youth Leadership Toccca-Stephens County class for 2014 were (front, from left) Taylor Pruitt, Kiana Gober, rachel Ayers, Chandler Alligood, Katherine Hunt, Jerrica Grant, Brittany Collins, and Emma Frazier. At rear are Jordan Chambers, Gabriel Norcross, Bailey Dickinson, and Paul Hopkins. Not pictured are Hutch Arrowood and Madison Hickey.

Osborne Wood Products adds item to product line

Osborne Wood Products of Toccoa has unveiled another new product - chair kits. This north Georgia company is now offering solid wood, North American made dining and kitchen chair kits to consumers and the trade. Four unique styles have been added to the Osborne line including two dining chairs, one kitchen chair, and one bar/counter height chair.
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