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Staff Editorials

Hwy. 515 dangers must be addressed

    It seems like every week we have photos in the paper of horrible vehicle carnage from Highway 515. Even while writing this, there are reports of a fatal collision there. This makes the second fatal collision on the four-lane in Pickens County this month.
    Last week we asked the local state patrol Post Commander Tim Nichols to check the accident rate numbers. What he found left him “honestly, shocked.”
    The  accidents on the four-lane hadn’t just increased, they have skyrocketed, up 53 percent this year over the same January to mid-June period last year.
    In 2014, from January 1 to June 12, the GSP made reports on 275 Pickens County crashes with 47 of those on the four-lane.
    At the time of Nichols’ report, GSP officers had filed reports on 313 crashes with 72 of those on the four-lane. But the Hwy. 515 numbers don’t include wrecks that occur in the intersections of the four-lane, a factor which surely raises the number considerably.
    Looking at the wrecks this year, they are a result of a variety of conditions: vehicles entering the road; turning in front of others; crossing the road; one tractor trailer hitting another; a car hitting a motorcycle; a commercial truck rear-ending a vehicle and pushing it into another vehicle.
    Nichols said the wrecks generally go back to two traffic violations: following too close and drivers not paying attention. In most of the wrecks we have reported on at least one driver, if not both parties, were from out of the area – motorists using the four-lane to get somewhere, rather than local folks running errands.
    Cruising around Highway 515, it may seem odd there are so many wrecks there. The road is very well constructed. The wide lanes, mostly long sight-distances and big dividing median should keep drivers separated.
    But, the first and worst danger is the speed. Traffic flies on those long, straight stretches of concrete. A minor driving mistake when everyone is going 65 mph (or more) results in not so minor damage. And keep in mind 55 mph is actually the speed limit on much of that route through this area. Let’s face it, we all speed there. And The GSP post commander specifically cited the number of people using their phones as another added hazard on the roads.
    When you see two fatalities and a trauma ward full of injuries on the same road in half a year there is a big problem. And  looking at Progress photos of past wrecks, it’s hard to believe the fatalities aren’t higher and the injuries aren’t worse.
    Something needs to be done.
    State agencies are publicizing an increasing problem of fatalities on Georgia roads. In May they launched the “Drive Alert, Arrive Alive” campaign. According to their information there has been a 25-percent increase in fatal wrecks in Georgia over the previous year. More than 450 fatalities have already occurred on Georgia roads this year. Prior to this year, the number of fatalities has decreased most years since 2006. More traffic enforcement and seat belt use are credited with saving lives.
    This problem needs to be addressed at all levels. First with all us who drive a car. Some accidents are unavoidable – someone in your blind spot or misjudging the speed of an approaching vehicle. Other causes are very preventable: texting, speeding, driving while intoxicated.
    We would further ask that all local law enforcement agencies, Jasper police, sheriff and state patrol give more attention to Highway 515/575. While it may already seem like policing is heavy there, obviously it is not, We’d much rather see a speed trap than a death trap.
    Finally, we’d ask the county commissioners, Jasper mayor, DOT and Governor’s Office Highway Safety to see if there are any changes that might improve safety.
    The number of wrecks, the injuries, the damage and fatalities on that four-lane are not acceptable. Highway 515 cuts through the middle of this county. There is no way to avoid it. If you go anywhere, you must either travel on it or cross it.
    Having this big of a risk every time we leave home can’t be ignored. It’s time for action.

Too much of everything

By Dan Pool
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    When I was a kid growing up here in the 1970s-80s, you only had a couple of grocery stores that provided all the staples. You didn’t see displays of seafood, nor dozens of expensive cheeses and, at that time, we would have taken the packaged sushi home and cooked it.     You certainly couldn’t find gluten-free pretzel baking flour or hummus on local shelves. Heck, no one even knew what gluten was, but I am pretty sure we all felt better and trifled less about food allergies.
    At that time homegrown tomatoes with mayonnaise, white bread and a lot of salt was a health food. And a Mexican restaurant was considered exotic fare.
    You had a couple of network channels on television along with the Turner channel that showed Braves games and wrestling. Cartoons were relegated to the outside margins, almost as a concession, “give a little something for the kids on Saturday mornings” as adults don’t want to watch television then.
    Now it’s dozens of channels on our cable provider and an unlimited buffet of every genre, sport, old shows, new shows, and some stuff that no one should see online. It used to be you made sure you were in front of the television at a certain time to catch Seinfeld or The Six Million Dollar Man. Now there is  “binge watching” (watching all of a series at one sitting which is possible online). I am told I should watch the Netflix series Daredevil, and I am sure I would like it. But I am afraid to start it as I have other stuff to do this summer. Who has the time?
    The same goes for books. Not too many years ago, finding a particular book could be a challenge. Pre-internet you needed word of mouth or a book review to tip you off to a good read, but with no Amazon, the tome might never be found. Now there is the opposite problem, you get recommendations everyday and they are ALL available instantly. Rather than looking for books, you must have limits or wind up a literary dog circling your tail with 10 new recommendations every week.
    The same goes for music, just change Amazon to Spotify. That Styx album you haven’t heard since high school? Listen to the whole thing right now.
    To borrow from comedian Louis C.K., we used to have “the phone.” One line per house, all you did was talk. “Hey get the phone.” Now it’s “my phone” or “my cell.” And you use it all the time, but rarely talk.
    We have reached a point that we have too much of everything: too many choices, too many options. Try to buy something online and you end with 495 different models and reviews and tips on each one to sort through.
    A sizeable percentage of Americans say they feel rushed or stressed. But the same basic structure of life hasn’t changed: Workdays are actually shorter than the early 1900s;  family requirements are the same - you still get the kids to school and do the yard work and shopping as before.
    What has changed are all these extra options, choices. Who has time to enjoy their afternoon when they want to try that unusual recipe, finish the last episodes of House of Cards, check Facebook, start a book and watch online highlights from eight different football games.
    There was a tipping point we passed somewhere in the last couple of years between  opening the door to new options and flooding ourselves with so many options that we don’t have time for anything. It’s like a kid in a candy store, you can’t choose any one thing because you are so worried about the two dozen you are going to miss.
    With too much of everything, you end up with a little bit of a bunch of stuff, and nothing at all complete.   

Water management key to state’s future

    We’ve had a rainy spring. We’re talking regular gullywashers. And parts of Texas certainly aren’t the deserts shown in John Wayne films.
    So while California bakes in a four-year drought that is so severe unprecedented water restrictions are becoming their norm, Georgia seems to be sitting flush (pardon the pun).
    Even coupled with reports last month about Georgia’s water usage declining despite a 75 percent population growth from 1980 to 2010, there is still reason to be good stewards of our own water. Just because it’s wet now, doesn’t mean that next year won’t be the start of a drought here.
    Many hailed our state as the state to watch – and let California learn from us in our conservation. According to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, the amount of water withdrawn from Georgia rivers and aquifers dropped from a peak of 6.7 billion gallons per day in 1980 to 4.7 billion gallons per day in 2010. Those figures indicate a 30 percent overall usage drop and 43 percent drop per person. Most of those reductions came between 2000 and 2010, periods when Georgia faced two severe droughts.
    The reports of our declining use of water sounded great, but figures from the city of Jasper water department show the past decade as one of stagnancy. While water usage dropped in the 1990s when state laws began mandating low flow plumbing, Water Superintendent David Hall said usage here since that time remains relatively the same with water customers currently pulling 1.7 million of the available two million gallons a day from the city’s Long Swamp Creek and ground wells.
    To see the growth – or lack of it - in the city, we look to the city’s water system. Where there’s water, there is growth. But Jasper has seen almost no growth since the bottom dropped out of the housing market in 2007. According to Hall, the city has only sold between 200 and 300 meters since 2007 and that includes both residential and commercial.
    “We haven’t grown much,” he said. “If you look at 2007 and when 2017 gets here, you’re not going to see a big difference in that 10-year-span. Nothing like they talked about, in residential meters especially. You’re going to go 10 years without any growth at all. It’s been an almost idle decade.”
    In 2007, the city had 5,400 water meters. Today there are 5,787 and Hall said the city went a year and a half without selling any meters.
    Hall praised customers who, “for a long time when they needed to, they did conserve and the public did what they needed to do.” People, he said, are just more aware of their water usage than they were decades ago.
    We hope, water users will continue to look for ways to conserve water, despite the seeming abundance now.  From washing our cars less to checking our faucets and pipes for leaks or installing water-saving shower heads or using our dishwashers and clothes washers only with full loads, small efforts do make a difference.
    A little conservation over a long period of time establishes good habits and sets us up to handle dry times that will undoubtably roll back around.

Caveat Emptor, scams abound now more than ever

    The Latin phrase Caveat Emptor is ancient but now more than ever, buyers must beware.
    Rarely a month goes by that we don’t run a report on a scam where a victim is talked or e-mailed out of hard-earned money.
    The scams aren’t new and tend to fall into these same old pitches:
    • A deal where you send money first and are promised a prize, a vacation or more money in exchange later; 
    • You are asked to pay some type of fee for a wonderful job or to avoid a fine. These often arrive as an official looking e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, your bank, or local law enforcement.
    • You are asked to provide private information such as credit card, social security or bank account numbers and then your account is used for someone to go on a spending spree or in elaborate identity theft crimes.
    Con artists are nothing new, but the internet has made it possible for thieves in other countries to contact you directly and you can forget about prosecution, or restitution when your hard earned money ended up overseas.
    Recently we ran a “Help Wanted” in the paper that apparently was a sham: No job and at some point, the person who placed the ad would have either asked for some type of money up front or for personal information. We cancelled the ad after it came to our attention and one person who called the number also reported it to the local authorities.   
    Our ads in this newspaper have some added security over postings on free websites in that we charge for them and for all online transactions Paypal is used as our online processor. Paypal is an online leader and does a very good job of spotting fake payments. But, in this case, an ad slipped through.
    We make every effort to watch the ads that appear in our want ads and you can be assured they are infinitely safer than what arrives unsolicited by phone or e-mail. But we can not fully scrutinize every job listing any more than we can test drive every used car. Please let us know if you think an ad is truly criminal (706-253-2457) not just someone overcharging or offering a used mower that may not cut quite as good as promised.

    This week the Cherokee Sheriff's Office also warns against phone scams from people impersonating sheriff's office employees who call citizens to request money. Click here for full press release.
    Any time you buy used machinery, it’s in your best interest to check it out thoroughly and with financial/ employment offers the same caution should apply.
    As we have quoted our local police chief on scams, any time you need to send money orders  outside the United States you can pretty much guarantee it’s a trick.
    And the IRS, courts and banks all stress they will never e-mail or call you for personal or financial data. Think about it, why would a banking officer call to ask what your account number is? Surely, they have the account info to find your phone number in the first place.
    We would further caution against any online or phone solicitation where someone requires a money order . Scam artists prefer money orders because they are so hard to trace back.
    Another common one is someone selling very cheaply or giving away a dog/motorcycle but they need money up front to help with vet/repair bills before they can ship it. Think twice about why someone in a distant place, often in a foreign country, want to ship you a dog or a motorcycle? Don’t fall for it.
    And why would someone e-mail you apparently at random to handle thousands of dollars for them? Or why would some company award you a sweepstakes but first need you to pay them?
    In all cases where you don’t have the security of buying from an established local merchant, be skeptical. If it looks fishy, it is. 


Going Back to Downtown

A few weeks ago, we had an editorial, Main Street is alright the way it is. It provoked a barrage of response in letters to the editor, online, on our social media and in person. People get fired up about downtown Jasper.

To further the discussion, we are presenting some of the responses with additional comments.

• Most people who commented expressed an opinion that Jasper’s Main Street and downtown are unique, with a certain charm, but at the same time is a tough business environment.

There is clearly some truth to this belief that businesses there are vulnerable. It was disappointing to see the Italian restaurant, Lolo’s, pack it up so quickly after opening and also that Main Street Clothing closed after many years. On the other hand, recall that Moore Furniture and Jasper Drug have been in business for decades on Main Street, along with 61 Main and Pickens County Chiropractic who have established themselves as solid businesses.

• “All of Main Street reaps the benefits of more food, beverages, and establishments that encourage our local citizens as well as visitors to stop in and enjoy our amazing town.” Well put. We do need more. And we would point to the rarely mentioned, but massive spots, the old Sidebar, a block east of Main and the old federal building, a block west as two blackholes that need re-filling • “When you drive through town on a Saturday after 3 p.m. and it looks like a ghost town... Makes one wonder...where is all the people? Is it because there isn't enough on Main Street? – A vey valid observation.

• “Highway 515 – a major road to get somewhere else.” Thousands of people drive through on weekends, but blasting by at 60 m.p.h. produces little benefit for us. The challenge: Get some percentage to stop. The answer? Open for discussion and debate.

• Other people made comments that business was shifting to the highway and deserting downtown. This may be true in a lot of places, and it may be happening here, but very slowly, if at all. Consider that with the exception of one new strip beside Walmart, our four-lane hasn’t seen any business boom since the Walmart opened and that was years ago. A Hardees is under construction and a Dunkin Donuts/convenience combo has plans out there. But that is where you expect fast food to locate.

• In a few related comments, several people complained that the city of Jasper only encourages fast food restaurants. Not true. It’s more a case of taking what they are getting. It’s not like the city planning folks had an option of permitting the Dunkin Donuts or a high tech manufacturing company. Who wanted to open is who we got.

• That being said, quite a few people opined that the city of Jasper has too much red-tape and hoops to jump through to get a business open. Some in the business have made this complaint so there must be some truth behind it.

•Others have said that the city and the chamber of commerce aren’t doing enough to promote business. We agree, but also reply, “exactly what do you want them to do?” This is a case where willingness and desire to help are there; new ideas are needed.

• Tourism is often tossed out as the Holy Grail of increased vitality for small towns. But, at this point Jasper is simply not positioned to take advantage of it.  Here is the problem, a tourist stops you on a Wednesday afternoon on Main Street and asks what should they do to spend a few hours. What is your answer? Before we can talk tourism, we must have attractions that justify someone driving here.

• Finally a lot of people say what downtown needs are some new businesses; brewpub, book store and movie theatre are mentioned. In some of the comments, there was accusatory tone that Jasper lacked “cool” or “hip” businesses as though there was a plot to keep them out of town. One person even directly stated that the local powers that be were squashing small business dreams of opening up neat shops. Absolutely untrue. These would all be nice to have, but, they will come only when someone in the private sector with the financing believes they are a viable business to open here. With the exception of state laws for the brewery, no one is opposing any of these businesses.

• What’s missing or holding back new business, we would suggest are the lack of shoppers. See above comment about the Saturday ghost town. As we ended the last editorial, we’ll repeat the best thing that can be done to support downtown is to shop there.