Verizon Apologizes to Blairsville and BRMEMC

News
Verizon

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – Verizon Representative Eleanor Callaghan attended the Nov. 12 City Council meeting to clear up any confusion about the small cell tower initiative and partnerships with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC).

“I’m here to apologize for any miscommunication that I may have caused in my communications between you and staff. The misunderstanding led to a misrepresentation of our relationship with BRMEMC. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our experience here with the mayor and with staff has been amazing so has our experience with BRMEMC,“ stated Callaghan.

In the Oct. meeting, the mayor relayed to the council that Verizon and BRMEMC weren’t able to work out a deal on attaching the small cell devices to existing EMC poles within city limits.

The partnership was the preferred solution of the city council to limit new poles potentially being placed throughout the city. However, in Oct. that seemed improbable.

However, Fetch Your News contacted BRMEMC and Verizon after that meeting, and both commented that negotiations were ongoing.

Callaghan’s apology addressed the cross-signals and did confirm that BRMEMC continues to work with the organization.

“Everything is going great. BRMEMC has been very happy with sharing information and continuing to be a collaborative partner with Verizon,” Callaghan commended the working relationship between the three parties. She added that the Blairsville relationship is used as a best practice with her other jurisdictions.

Mayor Jim Conley asked when Blairsville would know more about the placement of small cell towers in the city, and Callaghan believes that sometime in Jan. 2020, Verizon could offer placement plans for the poles.

The new poles will be placed in the right of way and not on anyone’s property.

Council Approves Moratorium on Vape Shops

News, Union County High School
vape

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – Blairsville City Council unanimously approved a moratorium on vape shops within city limits during Nov. 12, 2019 meeting.

The vape-craze has resulted in several adolescent deaths across the country due to the harmful chemicals in the pods, and statistics indicate that teens using the substance continues to grow.

“Vaping” or “JUULing” refers to e-cigarettes, which have risen in popularity over the past ten years. E-cigarettes normally contain nicotine, although sometimes the device pods are flavored or contain marijuana and other drugs. These components along with other ingredients produce the aerosol that users breathe into their lungs.

According to the CDC, approximately two-thirds of JUUL users, ages 15-24, do not know that the e-cigarette contains nicotine.

Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes. Nationally, approximately 50% of calls to poison control centers for e-cigarettes are for kids 5 years of age or younger.

The e-cigarette aerosol that users breathe from the device and exhale can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including Nicotine, Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, Flavorings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease, Volatile organic compounds, Cancer-causing chemicals, Heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.

The council decided to prevent future vape shops from opening due to all the health issues associated with the device as well as the dangers it presents to children and teenagers in the area.

Convenience stores and existing vape shops can continue to sell their e-cigarette products. However, no new vape-related businesses can open in the city.

Police Officer Shawn Dyer stated that “If [the vape] has over five percent THC, it’s illegal.”

Blairsville Police Department sends vapes selected to be illegal to the GBI for testing, but it takes around 12 months for the tests to come back.

E-cigarettes also can be used to deliver other drugs, including marijuana; in 2016, approximately one-third of U.S. middle and high school students who have ever used an e-cigarette reported using marijuana in the device.

However, teenagers typically order the illegal and more dangerous vape juice or pods online from California. The city can’t prevent individuals from making online purchases, rather just try and get it off the streets as quickly as possible.

Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes with others look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.

Types of e-cigarette devices, courtesy of CDC infographic.

Traditionally, e-cigarettes run on batteries and heat a liquid to produce an aerosol, not “harmless water vapor” as originally marketed.

The council also discussed placing a moratorium on vape supplies but decided they needed to look into the issue more before voting on the supplies part.

Incumbent councilmembers retain their seats in 2019 election

Announcements, Election
councilmembers

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – Election 2019 proved that the voting citizens of Blairsville agree with the job their councilmembers are doing by reelecting all three incumbents – Rhonda Mahan, Betty Easter, and Mary Ruth Cook.

The three councilmembers faced one challenger in Frank Pack, who has run for a seat on the council before to no avail. The votes broke down as follows:

Rhonda Mahan – 31

Betty Easter – 36

Mary Ruth Cook – 35

Frank Pack – 7

City council elections are based on a plurality of votes, in other words, the top three vote-getters are elected to the seats on the ballot. The terms up for elect will run from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2023. 109 votes were cast out of a population of approximately 600.

When asked for comment, Mary Ruth Cook stated, “I try very hard to make decisions that’ll benefit everybody, not just one, and hopefully, I can continue to do that.”

Cook is the newest member of the city council and will begin her second term in office with this win.

Similarly, Betty Easter told the room that she was “thrilled” to be able to serve the city of Blairsville for another term.

Rhonda Mahan echoed a similar sentiment to Cook with an earnest responsibility to do the right thing for the entire town. Blairsville’s currently undergoing rapid development with assistance from organizations like the Downtown Development Authority and the influx of new businesses. During this growth, it’s integral that elected officials attempt to consider their constituents first.

“I’m not a politician,” said Mahan, “I was born and raised here and want to be a good steward of our town.”

***These election results are unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State’s Office.***

 

Early Voting Opens for Blairsville City Council Election

Election, Politics, Press Release
early voting

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Early voting began on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and will continue for the next three weeks for the Blairsville Municipal Election for three city council seats.

Those who are registered and live within city limits can vote at City Hall from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday until Friday, Nov 1.

The actual Election Day for the three city council members is Tuesday, Nov. 5 and will occur at City Hall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Earlier in the year, four candidates qualified to fill the three city council seats, incumbents Rhonda Mahan, Betty Easter, and Mary Ruth Cook, as well as newcomer Frank Pack.

Blairsville City Council elections are determined by plurality, so the top three vote-getters will earn the seats up in Nov. The terms up for elect will run from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2023.

If anyone has any questions about voting or the election process, please contact Elections Superintendent Kaye McCann at 706-745-2000.

Council Requests Information Before Approving Pumping Purified Water into Sewer

News
firing range

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – The city council asked Point to Point Environmental Representative for more information about the purified water and remediation plan before releasing it into the city sewer system.

Point to Point Environmental was hired to remediate the underground tank leak that stored petroleum /gasoline for Union County’s road department. The tank has been removed and new above-ground tanks are already in place.
However, the leaked petroleum needed extraction from the ground, and it leaked into a nearby creek, which ultimately feeds into Butternut.
The state labeled the situation as an emergency for immediate cleanup.
Currently, a generator and pumps treat the water that fills up the 18,000-gallon, impermeable barrier, trench. With an air stripper and carbon filters, the water is cleaned and then stored Oxford, GA.
Point to Point Environmental would like to place the purified water into Blairsville’s sewer system through a manhole located next to the health department. The maximum amount is estimated to be 15,000 gallons a day for two years.
It should come out looking like clear water.
The water goes into the sewer system with waste from toilets and sinks.
“What’s in it after you get done treating it?” asked Councilmember Robert Moore.

Moore asked for specifics about soil reports, contamination, and discharge reports.

The representative stated that nothing should be in the water after it is treated.
Mayor Jim Conley spoke for himself and Wastewater Superintendent Jody Cook, “We don’t think we need to handle this. The last time we had something like this come up, it was landfill water, and it confused the community. We weren’t very good stewards in the community, according to some.”
It cost the county 20 cents a gallon to haul it off and $500 per trip, which is why it would be more efficient and cheaper to place it in the sewer system.
EPD has yet to ask for a full remediation plan, so none exists. The 18,000-gallon trench is the first step, and next would be placing extraction wells to removing the remaining contaminated water.
“We’re not going to be placing contaminated water in the system,” Point to Point Representative Kevin Brown said, “If the city has any additional sampling and analysis requirements, we’d be happy to do that as well.”
Valdosta and Ashburn have worked with Point to Point Environmental for clean-up efforts in the past.
Conley asked for reports from these cities before the council would approve the dumping of purified water into the sewer system. Moore also asked for in-depth details about the frequency of contamination testing and an accurate sample plan.
The council won’t vote on the plan until Point to Point Environmental sends over more information.

Council Discusses Direction for Blairsville’s Growth

Community, News
growth

Blairsville, Ga – City council addressed next steps for Blairsville’s rapid growth and how to handle the future.

Councilman Robert Moore brought up the Haralson Property lots and suggested leaving the remaining lots undeveloped.

Another restaurant will hopefully close eight-tenths of an acre, and if that goes through, then a little over an acre will remain.

“I think we need the greenspace myself. If we cut any more trees, it’s just going to ruin the town,” said Councilman Mary Ruth Cook.

Mayor Jim Conley confirmed that the lot across from Cook’s Resturant would be left, “It’s already been determined that the property across from Cook’s would be hung on to because we definitely need to have the parking.”

Moore stated that the city council needs to address future plans with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Councilman Tony Dyer announced that the next Downton Development Authority (DDA) meeting on July 9 will be open to the public, “The purpose of the meeting is to throw out ideas and see what we want to do from now on.  I think that’s a good thing to bring up.”

The city doesn’t have any authority as to how the property is sold but can provide input and suggestions for future plans. However, it’s the city council’s decision to relieve the DDA of the existing debt. If the current restaurant deal closes, $200,000 will be due to the DDA.

“I agree with you that we need to slow down with anything else we do,” said Dyer in response to Moore’s suggestion to consider the future of the city.

During Police Chief Michael Bear Baxter’s report, he commented that the new police department should be ready to move into within the month.  Rock’s currently being laid on the building.

“Power should be hooked up next week. Everything is ready to go. Of course, with us moving in, we have to have some things,” stated Baxter.

Councilman Rhonda Mahan asked if the remodel would include new furniture.

Conley confirmed that it would have new kitchen appliances, but office furniture would be moved from the current location.

“Some of that’s not worth moving,” said Mahan, “That stuff’s been here forever. The chairs are falling apart.”

Dyer joined in, “I think it may be up to us, whether they get anything new or not. All of us. Some of that stuff is too old to move over there to that structure.”

The current furniture came from the school, who stored it in a barn until giving it to the police department. Baxter conceded that some new desks, chairs, and other materials might be needed.

“Especially the chairs,” commented Baxter “The ones the public use, when we bring somebody in, they’re bad. They’re. bad.  I wouldn’t want to sit in one. You don’t need fabric chairs for the public. It’s not feasible. They look terrible. They’re stained up. Some of the things we need should be replaced.”

Baxter also commended Officer Shawn Dyer for spending the construction money wisely and stretching the dollar for the city.

Moore recommended that Baxter bring proposals for new furniture to the next council meeting.

Additionally, DDA Program Manager Darren Harper reported that the city earned $3,360 from the Spring Arts and Crafts festival.

“It’s higher than we ever had, and there are ways that we want to tweak it so next year it can be even better,” commented Harper.

Also, downtown business owners told Harper that they’re having really good numbers and are making more money than in 2018.

Wastewater Plant Starts Processing Landfill Runoff

News

Blairsville, Ga – Blairsville’s Wastewater (WWTP) plant to begin processing leachate from local landfills after City Council approves a partnership with The Water Authority (TWA).

TWA approached Superintendent of WWTP Jody Cook two months ago about allowing the company to use the plant for leachate processing. Blairsville’s WWTP makes a good candidate to take on processing due to the extra capacity in the tanks. TWA will pay the city $0.5 per gallon for the amount of leachate that the city accommodates.

“We’ve crunched the numbers and the amount of air available, we can treat it, and it would be a lot of revenue for the city,” explained Cook, “The only thing that we’ll have to purchase would be a pump because we don’t have an in-ground tank. We’re going to do a trial period, and they’ll give a pump until we get it approved by the city.”

In last month’s city council meeting, Cook and the council decided against adding leachate out of concerns that ammonia levels would be too high. However, after spending more time analyzing the procedure, Cook and TWA found that the WWTP can process leachate as long as enough air is available.

TWA’s proposal of $0.5 per gallon will provide the city in the worst case scenario with $526,600 a year if the plant only processes 28,800 gallons a day. The best-case scenario: if the plant can process 93,600 gallons a day, then TWA will pay the city $1,708,200 a year.

Councilman Tony Dyer asked, “This all is going to be hauled to us?”

Mayor Jim Conley confirmed, “It would be hauled to us and pumped into one of our digesters that is not in use at this time.”

The above ground tanks require the city to purchase a new pump to process the leachate.

It won’t alter the existing process at the WWTP, just act as an additive. It’s a chance for extra revenue for the city. Blairsville’s WWTP currently using approximately 30 percent of the facilities capacity at the moment.

“I don’t think they’ve tried it in an SVR plant before, which is why they want to have a trial,” said Cook, “We can’t violate our permit period, so if that happens then we don’t do it. I don’t foresee that, and we have no issue with ammonia, and we’re not using all the air in the tank now.”

The plan’s to start slow and let the organisms acclimate to the leachate with 5 gallons a minute for two weeks, then increase it to ten gallons a minute. Eventually, leachate will reach the 15 gallons a minute and maintain that setting.

Ellijay has implemented a similar process, and Cook visited the facility to see how it works and how Blairsville can undertake the process.

“I talked to the operator down there, and he said as long as you’ve got enough air, then you can treat it. There’s nothing else bad in it. It’s just high ammonia,” stated Cook.

TWA’s a Georgia Environmental Service Company and owned by several parties including State Senator Steve Gooch who explained that the treatment of leachate by under capacity plants’s a “good source of revenue for the city.”

“Typical municipal systems and septic waste systems take it,” said Gooch, “It’s a clean and effective way to dispose of the liquid and to treat it.”

Leachate consists of water, suspended materials, dissolved solids, nitrogen, and other organic substances, which makes it ideal to supplement the WWTP living ecosystem. The nitrogen will turn into ammonia during the aeration.

By adding leachate to the plant on days when the plant can’t maintain a level feeding schedule for the organisms in the WWTP. By using an empty process tank to store the leachate, it can readily meter the substance into the plant.

Until recently, most activated sludge plants operated at a max flow of 200mg/L BOD and TSS at 20mg/L ammonia loading. The TKN will be around 40-60mg/L. To better illustrate this example, TWA provided the following: A plant designed at 1.0 MGD should process 200mg/L BOD and 20mg/L and it can remove 1668 lbs/day of BOD and 166 lbs of ammonia. However, if the plant only operates at 0.35 mg/L with an average of 150mg/L and 15mg/L, then it’s only processing 437 lbs/day of BOD and 44 lbs/day of ammonia.

The leachate will keep the organisms at the WWTP eating at a slow rate by maintaining an even flow at all times.

Timberlake Pleads Case to City Council

News, Police & Government

Blairsville, Ga – Timberlake Custom Homes pleaded with the council to grant the variance permit after it was denied last month.

The variance was denied in May’s meeting due to being 28 square foot oversized.  The city’s sign ordinance stated that all freestanding signs must be 60 square-foot and 20 feet high.

Managing Partner Chip Shively addressed the city council about the sign and apologized for not understanding the process.

Managing Partner of Timberlake Custom Homes Chip Shively spoke to city council about his sign.

“Thank you for hearing us again, “said Shively.

He explained the reasoning behind renovating the existing steel sign, citing age and marketing.

“We took that existing sign and were just trying to dress it up a bit. It never occurred to me that it would need a permit for that, and it’s my fault. I apologize.”

Timberlake Custom Homes covered the existing sign in wood to make it more attractive to passersby. The freestanding sign also included other businesses in that shopping center. The old sign featured fluorescent lights. Shively replaced the fluorescents with LED bulbs to save on costs.

The wood addition will weather over time, which is why Timberlake Custom Homes added the roof to the top of the sign. An electronic piece sits inside the sign too in order to combat the weathering. The business spent $200,000 during the renovations to the signage.

Shively admitted the sign is three feet too high with the roof and requested a variance for that.

Timberlake Custom Homes operated out of Hiawassee for 20 years and recently moved to Blairsville due to all the work that they have done in the community.

“We’re excited about being in Blairsville,” stated Shively, “We want to be a strong member of this community who can contribute and be here for a long time.”

Mayor Jim Conley stated that he didn’t know LED bulbs were used in the businesses’ signs.

“It paints a different picture. They’ll still be 28 square-foot out of compliance, so what we’ll be issuing is a variance on 3 foot in height and 28 square-foot in overall size,” explained Conley.

Remax Town and County Agent Paige Thorton spoke on behalf of Timberlake Custom Homes. The businesses share the lot, and she’s their real estate agent.

“It really gives 515, as his neighbor and real-estate agent, a really nice look. We, at State Farm and Remax, have no problem with it,” said Thorton, “I can attest that Chip has been in business for 24 years in Murphy and Towns County, and he did see the value of Union County.”

“What makes it too high is just the little roof?” asked Councilwoman Rhonda Mahan. The mayor confirmed that yes, the roof added the extra three feet. The extra 3×8 design for the design center puts it over as well. Shively offered to “blackout” that part.

Councilman Tony Dyer offered “Has anything been grandfathered-in?”

Mayor Conley stated that signs had been grandfathered-in before the sign ordinance was put in place. He also added that he wanted to give Timberlake Custom Homes the variance.

Dyer agreed, “I know they got a lot of money in it, and I want to work with them.”

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