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Staff Editorials

Growth in Pickens County, Revisited

    A month ago we ran what we considered one of the more significant articles of this year, which addressed why it seems Jasper is behind in terms of economic development? We wanted to hear from local leaders about why they thought Jasper has not seen the growth of Canton, Ellijay, Blue Ridge and other surrounding areas.
    The responses from the commission chair, the Jasper mayor, the economic development director and others were varied, ranging from projects here not being finished before the national real estate downturn; to historical facts about the county; to geography - we are simply destined to be “in between” and other areas have more mountains, trails, rivers.
    Readers from all walks of life had plenty of opinions, too. It’s hard to remember a story that has prompted so many comments from so many different people with so many different points of view.
    Growth gets people fired up: How the county is doing? What is the county doing to attract it? What should the county be doing to control it? Why is there no Chick-fil-A here?
    One of the most common sentiments caught us off-guard: the Progress was thanked for pointing out that nearby towns have outpaced the First Mountain City with retail and commercial growth. We had considered the fact that economic development has dragged here to be common knowledge, and the purpose of our article was to look at why. For many readers, however, it was important to see in  black and white a story documenting that there are more stores in other areas with similar populations (Ellijay and Blue Ridge). For some, publicly admitting there is a problem might be an important first step towards addressing it.
    Other comments:
    • We’ve heard this before and simply don’t put credence into it, but there is a widespread belief that certain individuals intentionally hold back growth. Whether they identify the “good ol’ boys,” the “powers that be,” or identify someone like Jasper’s mayor, a good number of people expressed a belief that growth had been run off from our community.
    This doesn’t seem to mesh with facts like the city and county upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth and employing an economic developer to attract companies. You see for sale signs on prime commercial properties. No one is running business off; too few are seeking to come.
    • It’s time for the city and county to look at what they are offering to attract commercial operations and, maybe, put a sweeter deal together. Perhaps it is time for the county to create bolder incentives with tax abatements for new employers. The city has never given businesses breaks to locate here, but it may be the desire of the people for them to do so.
    • Create a commercial zone, where businesses locating along Highway 515 avoid property taxes for a specified length of time, was suggested. An additional advantage of this solution is that it lets the city and county have more input about where industries set up.
    • Another general opinion is what we need are industrial jobs, something that will pay more than the fast-food, entry-level positions. Solid blue-collar manufacturing, warehouse-style work should be sought. This would also let more kids who graduate from PHS stay here instead of moving away to find employment.
    • Another person said we need something big to get the county going  commercially, a major project that would drive even more growth. We haven’t had a big development announcement in years [except for a water park that has never gotten off the ground].
    • More than one person commented that it is good Pickens hasn’t developed like other places. They like the lifestyle here and hope nothing major locates here to disrupt it.
    We appreciate all the feedback, whether the person agreed, disagreed or wanted to offer alternative ideas on growth. Fostering a community dialogue on issues that affect everyone is always one of our aims.
    If you haven’t chimed in yet, but have strong opinions, shoot us a letter to the editor, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or call to discuss that story or any story you see in our pages, 706-253-2457.

Use GDOT where it’s most wanted - Hwy. 53 in Jasper

    In the past year the Georgia Department of Transportation has held two public hearings for projects in Pickens – a forced U-turn at the Highway 515/Antioch Church Road intersection and a passing lane on Highway 53 East between Four Mile Church Road and Wilkie Road.
    While Talking Rock townspeople near the Antioch Church Road intersection agreed something needs to be done to reduce crashes there, they don’t like the GDOT proposal at all – a median would prohibit vehicles from making left-hand turns or crossing the highway. Talking Rock business owners complained that it would kill their downtown district, and Jasper’s Mayor John Weaver added to the public chorus, speaking against the forced U-turn solution.
     On the east side of the county, residents near a possible passing lane site say they don’t see the need. But Georgia DOT says the current level of service on Highway 53 East along the project corridor is a “B,” and with population growth the level of service would be reduced to a “C” by 2038.
    We’d argue that the level of service at another spot, Highway 53 from where it crosses Highway 515 into downtown Jasper, would rate an “F” right now, not in two decades.
    Instead of funding two projects not many people seem to like, why not put the money into the big project that is very wanted? Although the project in Jasper is much more expensive, some estimates are well beyond $20 million, the other two projects are not cheap either (Antioch/515 project at $1 million and the passing lane at $3 million). The $4 million proposed on unwanted work would be a nice start on the real need.
    Local leaders regularly say this stretch of congested Hwy. 53, the main corridor through Jasper, has and will continue to create traffic issues in town to the point it hampers tourism and commerce.
    Since the 1980s there has been some type of plan on Georgia DOT books to make that section of Highway 53 more functional by widening the road and constructing a split set of one-way roads, among other improvements to help move traffic through downtown.
    For all the plans that are regularly revised, nothing significant ever comes into being and locals know that driving from downtown to Kroger remains a lesson in frustration. Sure, you can pull into the retail strip along that route to get some tacos or have your computer repaired, but try pulling back out. And if you’re unlucky enough to travel that route during Jasper Middle School pick up or drop-off, forget about getting anywhere. 
    In a recent interview, County Commission Chair Rob Jones said that stretch of road is crucial for business, and that something should have been done 15 years ago. Mayor Weaver has worked diligently to get the project traction for years with no results at the state level.
    The state department of transportation is enjoying a monetary windfall with the Georgia Transportation Fund Act of 2015, which will allow them to spend an additional $757 million on projects in FY 2016  and an additional $820 million in 2017. Most of the initial money spent in 2016 and 2017 will fund  much-needed maintenance that has been neglected around the state. We’re happy to see these maintenance measures. According to GDOT’s list of projects, Pickens is slated for some resurfacing and other basic work in the next two years.   
    We encourage the state transportation planners to not spend money on stuff no one wants. Spend it on something everyone wants and something that will help our county immensely.  
    If revenues continue to roll in like they are expected to, and GDOT gets a grip on routine maintenance, this big project could become a reality sooner than later.     

For sports, let the players decide if risk worth reward; Pastor’s Protection bill pure political posturing

    For sports, let the players decide if risk worth reward


     Most Americans enjoyed a fine Super Bowl game Sunday, watching Peyton Manning (with retirement possible) go out a winner after a long and classy career.
    Even if you were for the Panthers, you’ve got to admire Manning. No one wants to think about Peyton winding up with severe brain issues because of his time in football, like Kenny “The Snake” Stabler or Junior Seau, former stars left with mental problems due to repeated blows to the head.
    With so much attention on sports concussions and new research showing how widespread and debilitating the repeated blows to the head are, you can’t help but worry about Peyton. The NFL has said that nearly one-third of its retired players will experience brain damage later in life, according to recent research.
    The NFL appears to be taking head shots seriously with players required to sit out until they can pass a concussion protocol following any hard shot to the helmet. There were definitely cases where star players had to remain on the bench when they were needed, so it looks like they are serious about enforcement.
    There have been calls to outlaw football over player health issues. But this isn’t the first time the game has come under the microscope for injuries. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt got involved as he was a fan of the game. Roosevelt used his office to mandate some rules after 19 deaths came on the field in 1905 among high school, college and the adult games. That led to the elimination of open fighting in the pile-ups and using professional brawlers as ringers in college games.
    It’s hard to see how the game can be made much safer than it is now, but by all means the NFL should diligently study it. Football, with players weighing well beyond 270 pounds who can still run ridiculously fast to bring down other players, is clearly a risky game.  In the early years, the players, coaches and team owners had no way of knowing how serious the repeated head shots could be later in life. That has changed with more medical knowledge.
    Let’s also keep in mind that football is not required at any level and those who make the pros are well compensated. The average NFL player earns over $1 million per year. But more telling is  the practice squad players who never make highlight reels are guaranteed a minimum of $6,600 per week.
    This is not a case of protecting coal miners  just scraping by, trying to feed their families.
    The risks are known and it’s a personal choice to play at any level and one where the payoff may justify the risk for professionals. We hope the NFL does all they can to protect the players, but ultimately the decision to play should be left to the players.

Pastor’s Protection bill pure political posturing


By Dan Pool, Editor
To State Rep. Rick Jasperse:
    I am publicly asking you to introduce legislation that will protect news reporters from being forced to eat squirrel meat while in the course of their work.
    I know this is a grave concern of many of us -- that we may be at some gathering in the line of work and be presented with an objectionable dish of squirrel and feel that we are compelled by law or civil penalty to consume the varmint.
    Now please note that your bill should not infringe on our right to eat squirrel meat if we feel that is to our liking, as we would still maintain our rights to decide.
    I got the idea for this bill from reading about the Pastor’s Protection bill that is currently being heard under the Gold Dome in response to legalized gay marriage.
    As I am sure you are aware that bill actually doesn’t do anything but it sure sounds good for politicking around the state, being able to say you are a strong supporter of protecting religious rights as evidenced by your work on a bill that didn’t have any measureable effect.
    As Rep. Tanner of Dawsonville and Speaker Ralston have both said in some of their press comments, the bill doesn’t offer any more protection but is needed to “reassure” pastors they would never have to perform a ceremony they didn’t want to – as though there were gay men or women who might barge into a church and demand to be married by a preacher who didn’t like them or their lifestyle.
    True, some marriages get off to worse starts, but the scenario is pretty farfetched that a preacher would be forced to show Jesus’ love where he has open hostility.
    And when you see a politician talking about how they saved religious rights, ask them what they really did.

A little compassion goes a long way

    What started as a tense moment on Vancouver’s SkyTrain earlier this month ended in a lesson about the benefits of compassion and not judging those around us.
    The story started when a man boarded a train car in Vancouver and began swearing and “acting really aggressively,” according to fellow commuters. Everyone was scared at first, believing that the man was likely suffering from a mental illness or drug abuse. In what has since been described as an ‘incredible display of humanity,’ a 70-year-old woman walked over and reached out her hand to the man, despite his aggressive behavior and profanity. She tightly gripped his hand until he calmed down and sat next to her, with tears in his eyes. For nearly 20 minutes the woman sat with him, her touch and presence calming him, until he got off at his stop, saying only “thanks grandma.”
    The whole time she didn’t let go.
    Afterwards the woman, a mother of two sons of similar age to the enraged man, said, “He just needed someone to touch.”
    A fellow commuter who witnessed the touching display, Ehab Taha, was so moved by the incident he posted the story on Facebook, and called for people to “not fear or judge the stranger on the train: life does not provide equal welfare for all its residents.”
    Indeed, life is not equal and the woman recognized the situation for what it was: A fellow human being in desperate need of compassion. Perhaps as compelling as her kindness was the woman’s ability to recognize how a seemingly small gesture, the touch of another person, could diffuse such a potentially hostile situation. After all, the man had a pen in his hand that could have become a weapon. Without regard for her own safety, she did something that quite possibly saved lives that day – she reached for his hand to comfort him in his time of distress.
    From the time we are small children we recognize that both good and bad things happen in life. While some things can be chalked up to bad luck, others may be brought on by our own willful and ill-advised acts. Regardless of what brought that man to his state of despair that day on the train, a kind, loving gesture pulled him back from the brink.
    It’s reassuring to know that whatever paths our lives happen to be on – whether, as Ignatius J. Reilly believes, our wheel of fortune is on an upswing or a downswing - there are people out there like the 70-year-old woman who instinctively know all we might need is a comforting touch.
    It’s important to go through our daily lives remembering that many people endure hardships the rest of us are completely oblivious to. People struggle.
    Maybe kindness is all we need in this world. And maybe, just maybe, no simple gesture is ever too small.
    So here’s to the unnamed woman who touched one man and wound up touching us all.

"A gun raffle? Sell us a ticket" and "Flat Earthers can take a hike"

    A gun raffle? Sell us a ticket


   Last week some media in Atlanta lacking any better firearm related story in the metro area chose to feature a raffle by our PHS wrestling team booster club which had a Glock handgun as the main prize.
    Needless to say this produced a serious surge in ticket sales, even though the big city media approached this story as a case of look what the gun nuts up in the mountains are doing.
    We didn’t do a story on it, mainly because we don’t see any big deal or problem with it– it’s not like they were giving away a free trip to a strip club or a bag of weed.
     A Glock handgun is a completely legal and very desirable prize to many people here and the ticket itself states that the winner must meet age and other requirements.
    Any fears that the school was going to turn over a loaded handgun to a student on school grounds is ludicrous. In the sake of clarity, it should further be noted that booster clubs are all independent and the decision was solely that of the club, not the district as a whole.
    The choice of this prize shows the organizers of the raffle likely got a deal on the pistol and have a good knowledge of their market.         They are certainly not alone in choosing guns to raffle off. From the yearly Ducks Unlimited to the local GOP to Veterans groups, firearms are pretty standard fare for prizes.
    And as far as we are aware, none of these guns has ever been put to misuse.
    There may be firearm violence issues in America, but they sure don’t come from gun
raffles to benefit youth sports.


Flat Earthers can take a hike


    Some times you just wonder if all intelligence has gone out the window. In what became a very public debate last week B.o.B., a famous rapper, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson got into a spat over whether the earth is round or flat.
    B.o.B. first argued for the flat position with his direct observation – looks flat to me is essentially what he said   
    Dr. Tyson rebutted from a scientific background, explaining the optics that make the horizon look flat and how we are very small beings on a very large curved object and thus don’t see the curvature.
    The rapper then applied a classic move put forth by debaters with losing positions, lack of evidence, or people who simply don’t want their views questioned by anyone with facts – it’s a conspiracy against me. When pressed by science, B.o.B. alerted his 2.3 million online followers that he was going up against the “greatest liars” in history, to explain why his arguments were being challenged.
    There are always nuts out there, flat-earth believers, or whatever other conspiracy theory of the day is trending online.
    But what is truly disappointing and frightening is how many people voiced support for the rapper over the scientist in this debate and how effectively they were able to circle the wagons behind the idea that they were unmasking a great conspiracy and injustice.         Maybe some of the supporters were being sarcastic or enjoying the silliness of arguing that the world is flat. It would certainly be comforting to think they were joking rather than actually jumping on a flat earth bandwagon. But one worries that too many of the people simply believed what they were told by someone they recognized as  the more famous person in the debate.
    The saying from a commercial, “it must be true I saw it on the internet,” gets a fair amount of play in sarcastic circles. Exercise caution when deciphering outrageous claims online.
    Tyson himself explained his decision to join the fray as this, “There's a growing anti-intellectual strain in this country. It may be the beginning of the end of our informed democracy."