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Op-ed, blogs and columns

Arrests made for multiple car break-ins

Three Pickens residents have been arrested in conjunction with at least a dozen auto break ins that occurred over the weekend of March 9 through 12, according to Pickens County Sheriff’s reports.

Capt. Joe McDonald of the Criminal Investigations Division said the Ivy Ridge, Wild Timber and Saddle Ridge subdivisions were targeted by a group of young adults. “They would just ride through those subdivisions late at night on those days and flip the handles to see if they were unlocked. They wanted to see what they could get easily,” he said.

According to McDonald the sheriff’s office received calls about the break ins, and through their investigation were able to track down and apprehend the three suspects.

Polycorp Inc. companies to give $32,000 scholarship to PHS senior

Innovation in Engineering Scholarship deadline April 1

Scholarship Details:

The Innovation in Engineering Scholarship was created as a way for Polycor to become more involved with the local community and encourage students to pursue degrees in engineering.                         

At Polycor we believe that economic prosperity comes from actually making things in America.  Even better, making

sustainable products in America, while leading innovation and excellence. To do that, we need bright engineers in this country to lead the way.

Polycor Georgia Marble and Vetrazzo will proudly award a $32,000.00 scholarship to a 2012 Pickens

High School senior, to be announced in May, 2012.

Reaching the "New Normal"

By Ron Barnes

Associate Broker – Prudential Georgia Realty

In my ongoing search to satisfy my curiosity about how real estate is “doing” in Pickens County, I came across some interesting information. It loosely falls in line with the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors.

I remember reading in 2007 that someone had predicted home prices would have to return to the levels we had prior to 2005 before we would see what the “new normal” would be in the marketplace. That seemed preposterous at the time, since it would be a roll back of something like 25-30 percent at the time. I’m not really sure if the person who came up with that prediction actually did any research, or if someone said it and the talking heads picked up on it like the “double-dip housing market” last year. (How can you have a double-dip in real estate when there hasn’t been a recovery yet?) In either case, it turned out to be pretty realistic.

I recently showed readers a chart that graphically illustrated the housing market spiraling out of control beginning in the late ’90s and really firing up between 2002-04. That’s when the government started artificially stimulating the market with bad loans that increased buyers and demand for homes. When I read the results for real estate in Pickens for November, I saw that we only had 429 active listings, down from highs well into the 600’s over the last several years. I decided to go back to see how long it had been since we had fewer homes for sale in the county, and the answer is May of 2004 when there were 427 active listings. That is well over six years!

Furthermore, in May 2004 we sold 34 homes, wrote contracts on 32 more, had almost 14 months of inventory based on sales, and the average sale price was $155,000.

In November 2011 we sold 29 homes, wrote contracts on 37 more, had 14.8 months of inventory based on sales, and the average price was $222,000. Admittedly, the sale price can fluctuate from month to month, but sales and pending contracts are what they are.

We thought times were pretty good in May 2004, so why does it not feel so good right now? Unemployment is higher, and there are still too many foreclosure sales in our current numbers to say our market is good. However, because the number of homes for sale is obviously shrinking, and there is little happening in the construction of new homes, it would appear that the worst is behind us and the market might be poised to make some positive movement.

I recently saw a cartoon that had a house for sale, with a sign saying “Price Reduced – Now Only $1. Zero Down with Zero Percent Financing!” A couple of “buyers” were talking to the real estate agent saying, “No thanks. We’re holding off to see how much lower the market will go before jumping in.”

So for those of you looking for the bottom of the market, this might be it. If you snooze, you lose!

Ron Barnes can be reached at 678-520-6648 or Prudential Georgia Realty is an independently owned and operated member of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc., a Prudential Financial Company. Equal Housing Opportunity. Statistics furnished by Trendgraphix.


Two found guilty in home invasion

District Attorney Joe Hendricks announced that Jael Aareon Gates, age 20 of Hollis Queens, N.Y., was found guilty by a Pickens County jury on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, of armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Senior Superior Court Judge Fred Bishop sentenced Gates to 25 years with the first 13 to be served in prison and the balance of his sentence to be probated.

Gates and his co-defendant, Ira Joseph Hanna, were indicted by the Pickens County Grand Jury in March 2011 for the home invasion/armed robbery. The home invasion occurred at an apartment in Jasper.

Governor's water plan ignores conservation

By Joe Cook

Executive Director Coosa River Basin Initiative


            The $300 million that Governor Nathan Deal has dedicated to increasing the state’s water supplies will not support  the most cost-effective projects available to local communities and, when all is said and done, may not secure one drop of new water, according to members of the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC).

            On Nov. 17, the Governor’s Water Supply Task Force approved a plan that excluded water efficiency measures from the list of projects eligible for funding under the Governor’s multi-year initiative. Instead, it appears the funds will be allocated primarily to the promotion of reservoirs and other high cost water supply sources.

            Local governments and water utilities are expected to begin competing in January for low interest loans and grants that are being made available under the program.

            “In a time when state resources are limited, it appears this program is destined to waste tax dollars,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director & Riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome. “We’re going to invest in proposals for multi-million dollar reservoirs that may never be built when a fraction of that investment in water efficiency projects will get us the same water, faster.”

            Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division estimates that water conservation and efficiency measures can cost $0.46 to $250 per 1,000 gallons secured while new reservoirs can cost $4000 per 1,000 gallons secured.

            GWC, a consortium of more than 180 conservation-minded groups representing more than 300,000 Georgians, is urging the Task Force and Governor to level the playing field, allowing water efficiency projects to compete for these new state grants and loans. 

            Projects eligible for funding under the  program include new reservoirs, expansion of existing reservoirs, new wells, interconnections between water suppliers, indirect potable water reuse and “emerging” projects such as desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.

            GWC contends that the certainty of funding for the Governor’s water supply program is questionable--dependent on appropriations from the legislature and bonds to be paid from receipts from water sales from completed projects.

            It is highly unlikely that any project could be completed in the four-year time frame envisioned by the program, and even if the full $300 million is ever appropriated, it is insufficient to construct any new reservoirs, according to GWC.  Only $74.25 million is available in the program for FY 2012.

            Two proposed reservoirs in North Georgia (Shoal Creek in Dawson County and Glades in Hall County) have a combined expected price of $950 million. The recently completed Hickory Log Reservoir in Cherokee County cost $100 million, nearly five times the originally projected cost, and has strapped the City of Canton with such debt that it has been forced to raise water rates by 30 percent. And, the reservoir has yet to supply any water.

            “Lobbyists, lawyers, engineers and real estate interests are all at the front of the line to receive the funds set forth under this program,” said Sally Bethea, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “People with strong records as campaign contributors stand to benefit from this proposal long before any water flows from any of the projects so hopefully contemplated.”

            The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), the lead agency on the Task Force, has defended the exclusion of water efficiency projects, saying that other financing programs exist for such projects and that local governments are not fully utilizing these state and federal loan programs.

            However, GEFA records show that the agency has distributed $65 million in loans for conservation and efficiency projects during the past five years.

            And while GEFA’s conservation and efficiency loans have been effective, there is currently no mechanism that allows for direct state investment (grants) in such projects. The Governor’s new program will provide grants for reservoirs and other projects, but communities wanting to implement conservation and efficiency projects will not be able to compete for those same grants. 

            A March 2011 study conducted by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has shown that metro Atlanta communities could secure as much as 160 million gallons a day by fixing leaking pipes, replacing water wasting plumbing fixtures and appliances and by improving the way that water is priced.

            In addition to reservoirs, other controversial water supply projects are eligible for funding under the program, including desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.

            Desalination projects are highly energy intensive and produce problematic waste. Aquifer storage and recovery involves pumping surface water into underground aquifers.

            Georgia has banned its use in South Georgia and its viability as a dependable water supply for North Georgia is still unproven.