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Staff Editorials

Merging county, city water/sewage asks too much, not so with cooperation

 

Over the past year the topic of merging county and city services, particularly water and sewage, and has been bounced around sporadically. The idea has popped up in a number of forums, meetings and discussions and was a dominant non-issue during the comprehensive planning   meetings just completed.

Officially, the comprehensive planning sessions labelled the idea as a strong minority view but mention of merger studies did not gain support for the 10 year update. Planning Director Richard Osborne told one incredulous member of the public that while it was discussed a lot and can certainly continue to be talked about, the official tally shows the majority of the stakeholders prefer the county and city of Jasper to continue as separate infrastructure service providers.

Has the county missed an opportunity to expand our most crucial infrastructure or did we avoid a quagmire of study committees and hubbub, adding a layer of bureaucracy to water/sewage?

Here are some thoughts, both pro and con:

• Consistent through the discussion, speakers acknowledged the status quo is fine as long as the population here is static. Neither government is in any critical state, though significant growth can not be accommodated without expansion of water/sewage infrastructure.

• The city of Jasper has a full water department, which includes sources for raw water. The city has had their system in place for decades and serves the commercial area along Highway 515 and areas out in the county. The city/county service areas were set before the county had many resources, thus allowing the city to stake out territory the county may desire now.

• The county has water purchase agreements from surrounding cities/counties, including the original agreement to purchase essentially all the water they can use from the city of Calhoun at a rate that makes their operation financially secure. Of course, should some situation arise, Calhoun could theoretically cut off our county. The county is developing their first water source at Grandview Lake which will provide about 300,000 gallons a day, a significant portion of their needs.

• The city has sewage; the county does not. The idea of the county developing sewage operations is usually ruled out as impossible. We don’t buy that. Very difficult, yes, and not feasible for full countywide coverage, but we are not convinced that an inspired person with a deep-pocketed developer couldn’t put the county into the sewage business. Smaller package sewage plants for certain areas  have been discussed previously so the idea is not unprecedented.

• When discussing any merger it’s important to recognize the different size/scopes of the operations of Jasper and the county. It would be like telling someone with a paid home (city of Jasper) to merge with someone with a long-term lease (the county and their water purchase agreements).

• It would seem likely additional efficiency could be gained by merging the departments, with personnel and equipment shared in both systems.

• It also seems likely that a combined Jasper/Pickens water authority might be able to carry a bigger stick to accomplish  sorely needed projects. Expansion of water/sewage plants for Jasper is a looming and expensive proposition. Creating sewage for some areas of the county might be back on the table.

We’d like to end by saying that whether merger discussion ever rears its head again, there is undoubtedly and indisputably areas where cooperation between city and county over resources will benefit us all. This cooperation already exists. The city and county shared some water line work to allow more efficiency in moving H2O from one side the county to the other.

We’d urge the city and county to turn the discussion around. Rather than starting with talk of a merger; make that the end point (if needed). Begin by saying, “if we worked together are there some larger projects that become feasible.” And see where that leads.

 

Hands free is a great law

The state of Georgia has made a serious step in the right direction for public safety and it doesn’t involve any gun/mental health, immigration or terrorism rhetoric. It’s a law that will assuredly save lives, will affect all of us and really tick off a lot of people.

The Hands Free Georgia Act prohibits holding a cell phone while you drive. It was signed by Governor Nathan Deal last week in Statesboro to recognize five Ga. Southern nursing students killed in a highway crash (see story on page 6A).

The new law, which will start with a $50 fine in July for anyone spotted with a cell phone pressed to their eye or in front of the their face while behind the wheel, is desperately needed.

Cell phone use has become so commonplace while in transit that dramatic increases in wrecks are mostly ignored. A Georgia Highway Safety official referred to talking on a cell while driving as “second nature.” It’s amazing that the bill actually had to state that it is unsafe and now illegal to watch a video while driving -- as though people were oblivious to the fact that Youtube and maneuvering a vehicle don’t go together.

The problem now will be convincing the public to really put down that phone. A survey by the National Safety Council found that 25 percent of all drivers felt that sending text messages or e-mails didn’t affect their driving and this percentage jumped to 65 percent for drivers under 35 years old. Many cited the fact they slow down as why their texting and driving was safe – sort of like a drunk claiming to drive better while impaired.

This new law will take aggressive and rigid enforcement to shift the travelling public’s belief that they have some right to talk on the cell while driving. If you have not been following this law, it really does prohibit holding a cell unless you are “legally parked.”

Despite some people’s opinions, statistics grimly show that cell phone use (even taking calls) behind the wheel kills. 

• The National Highway Safety Institute finds that distracted driving claimed 3,450 lives in 2016.

The National Safety Council found that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes a year.

Texting while driving is considered six times more likely to cause a wreck than drinking and driving. 

Georgia banned texting and driving in 2010 but that law didn’t have the effect that was desired. Georgia’s crash rate continued to climb, while states with hands free laws were dropping.

Savannahnow.com found that crashes in Georgia rose 36 percent over the last two years as compared with a 16 percent drop in accidents over the same period in 13 of the 15 states that have enacted hands-free laws.

The total ban on holding cells was needed for at least two solid reasons.

First, officers said the texting ban was impossible to enforce as drivers could claim they were making a call, checking a GPS or doing something else on the phone (you should set your GPS before shifting the car into drive).

Second, there are plenty of other actions besides texting you can do on a phone that are distracting. Do you really want someone checking scores on a busy college football weekend while driving along the street where your kids are playing?

Anyone who has ever seen that person weaving all over road, holding a cell in front of their face should support this law. If you are the person who is sure they can use their cell and drive at the same time, get over your privileged attitude because you can’t.

Traveling at 55 mph and looking at your cell for just two seconds allows your vehicle to move half the length of a football field (about 50 yards) without any eyes on the road. If you don’t think bad things happen in that length of time, refer to the fatalities and crash statistics above.

 

As the Harmony students say, “Plastic is not fantastic”

Last week, the United Kingdom announced a plan to ban plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton swabs. The proposed ban will reduce the plastic polluting the earth’s waters: 150 million tons of it that kills one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals, which either eat the waste or get tangled in it. Kudos to the United Kingdom.

Banning straws is one tiny - and very necessary - step to curbing the problem of plastics pollution in our oceans and on our land. Everyone knows, in theory, that we should recycle the plastic we use but the first step should be to use less of the material. Opting for those fancy Yeti cups (or the cheaper and just as good ones) in lieu of plastic water bottles is a great way to curb your personal plastic footprint. Half of all the plastics produced go into single-use applications - like water bottles. 

In the United States, the average person throws out 300 pounds of plastic packaging a year. According to Oceana.org, the world produced as much plastic in the last decade as it did in the entire 20th century and estimates for how much plastic winds up in the ocean range as high as 1.6 billion pounds annually, the same amount of Atlantic cod taken from the sea each year. 

Marine plastic pollution is already one of the world’s major environmental problems and campaigners say it is expanding at a catastrophic rate. The World Economic Forum says if we carry on at the current pace there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans - in terms of weight - by 2050. And with 31 million tons of plastic waste generated in the US in 2010, we account for 12.4 percent of the total municipal solid waste out there. In 1960, plastics represented less than one percent of the waste stream in the United States. 

Recently, an Englishman saved all of the plastics he purchased over the course of a year. He didn’t change his buying habits for the purpose of his project and he wound up with 4,490 items - a mountain of plastic (which is on display in a seaside town in Kent, England). Of the pile of plastic, 60 percent was food packaging - salad and vegetable wrappers and bread bags. Ninety-three percent was single-use plastic, and just eight items - mostly coffee lids - were made out of biodegradable material. 

He told a reporter that “you get a really clear picture of what you’re consuming and you figure out that all this stuff was just designed for you to buy it.” He said the “black plastic of meat packaging is to hide the color of the blood and the brown plastic of mushroom packaging makes the mushrooms look earthy.”

In all of his collection, just 56 items were made from recycled material. 

Recycling is vital, but what we really need to do is use less plastic. Like the kids at Harmony Elementary who are learning that “plastic is not fantastic,” adults should take notice of the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives and try and reduce it.

As an experiment, how about keeping all the plastic that you want to discard/recycle in a pile for one week? Send us a picture for the paper This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

  We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic pollution mess because we are using way too much and only eight percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling anyway. So the next time your waitress drops a plastic straw by your drink, do what your grandmother would have done -  drink from the glass and don’t be so wasteful. 

 

College isn’t the only choice

For decades, it has been every working-class parents’ dream to have their child go to college, get that degree, and “do better than we did.” Their hope was their children would attain better and higher-paying jobs. High schools got on board with that sentiment and have been steering kids towards college for years. It was part of the American dream.

While parents and educators had good intent, the old “do good and go to college” sentiment is not in the best interest of every kid, especially now when so many high-paying trade jobs are unfilled and are available with often times shorter, specialized training that doesn’t take four years of expensive college to attain.

NPR recently reported that a “shortage of workers is pushing wages higher and higher in the skilled trades and the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening - even as the price of college keeps rising.” And that holds true here in Pickens where this newspaper recently reported that many skilled positions in jobs like welding are both high paying and plentiful. Across the U.S., there are some 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year that don’t require bachelor’s degrees, according to the NPR article.

We encourage parents and the school system to think of career guidance that sheds a more positive light on trade jobs. College degrees are wonderful and can prepare students to be thoughtful, inquisitive adults, but Georgia needs qualified trade workers. Businesses in Pickens and throughout the state are looking for employees with these important skills. 

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some of the most in-demand jobs in Georgia that don’t require a bachelor’s degree include: dental hygienist, paralegal, radiologic technologist, registered nurse, web developer, and telecommunications equipment installer/repairer. And guess what? They all pay more than $50,000 a year. 

Fortune magazine reported as many as two-thirds of U.S. companies across multiple industries say they have difficulties finding qualified applicants for technical positions, with the biggest gaps in the technology and healthcare sectors. 

According to the U.S. Manufacturing Institute, the industry will need to fill more than three million open positions over the next decade, as many as two million of which will go unfilled due to a skills gap and shortage of technical education. 

To combat this, Governor Nathan Deal announced in January that the state expanded the HOPE Career Grant to offer students opportunities in five of Georgia’s fast-growing industries: aviation maintenance, automotive technology, distribution-materials management, construction, electrical line work, and logistics. Majors in the construction field covered by the grant also include air conditioning technology, carpentry, construction management, electrical construction and maintenance, and masonry and plumbing. This means students can get the training they need for excellent, high-paying careers without a four-year degree.

Chattahoochee Tech, right here in Jasper, already has an array of options to help anyone who  wants to better their job chances find the financial means necessary to do so.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that people with career and technical educations are more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, and are significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study.

We would never advocate against seeking academic knowledge at college if that is where your heart, inspiration leads. But, the idea that anything besides college is second-rate is wrong and has been preached too long to the detriment of young people today and the American workforce in general.

Good careers come through many different pathways.

Meth has crept back with a vengeance

The headline of a NY Times article published this February sums up the  meth crisis resurgence - “Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back. And it’s Everywhere.”

“Everywhere” definitely includes Pickens County, which has seen two massive busts in the past month. Local authorities confiscated one kilo in the first, off Jordanaire Road, and 300 grams on the most recent, on Burgess Road.

“Everywhere” also includes Gwinnett County, where just last week the Drug Enforcement Administration seized $2 million worth of meth inside painted Disney figurines. Over $3 million was seized in Dahlonega last fall. The DEA is now calling meth - not opioids - the number one threat to the area. Many experts say the meth crisis is being overshadowed by the deadly opioid epidemic. 

“Everybody talks about the opioid crisis, and there is no doubt about that crisis, but by far our number one threat is methamphetamine in this region,” the DEA told an Atlanta news station.

Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig said the two raids here “will make an impact – at least temporarily” in the local supply. Unfortunately “temporarily” is a sad fact we all recognize. 

According to the Georgia Meth Project, meth is at the highest levels of availability and purity since 2005 “largely due to trafficking by the Mexican drug cartels, now the number one source of all meth sold in the U.S.” The massive bust in Gwinnett was meth from Mexico. Atlanta was already recognized as a major hub for the drug, even before the latest mega-bust. 

Statistics are alarming: According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, their Office of Field Operations seizures for meth are up from 14,100 pounds in 2012 to over 44,000 pounds last year. This year there has already been 33,200 pounds seized. U.S. Border Patrols seizures are up from 3,700 pounds in 2012 to 10,300 pounds last year. To compare, other drug seizures from the federal agency are either down or only up slightly.  

The CDC reports a 255 percent increase in deaths related to meth use since 2005, reaching 6,000 total deaths in 2015.

Meth use tapered off for a while because of Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act and a crackdown on the over-the-counter cold medicine used to make meth. Henry Brownstein, author of "The Methamphetamine Industry in America: Transnational Cartels and Local Entrepreneurs" tracks meth production from small labs in America prior to the crackdown, to Mexican cartels and their “super labs” where production has now been perfected, and the drug purified and is now made cheaper. 

"It's cheap and it's very effective,” one DEA agent said, “and the high lasts a long time and it's very addictive.”

  Even though meth doesn’t kill as many people as opioids do, it causes paranoia and aggression, destroys users’ bodies (remember the Faces of Meth campaign?) and tears families apart. Babies are born addicted to the drug, and the local DFCS office has said meth is the number one reason children are removed from their homes. Kids are neglected and abused.

What can be done? The fight is a challenging one, with obvious need for national, state and local law enforcement officers to be vigilant and keep it from coming across the border, and to confiscate it if it does make it into our cities and town. But as a community, we need to help stop the demand. 

We can all make efforts to educate people about the devastating consequences of meth use and addiction, and find ways to increase and improve education, prevention, and treatment, and hopefully get a grip on this drug that is devastating our communities.