SOCIAL CIRCLE — Several residents expressed concerns about the Rivian Automotive plant that is planned for Stanton Springs North at a meeting of the Jasper, Newton, Morgan and Walton Counties Joint Development Authority Tuesday.
About 10 residents of Walton and Morgan counties spoke during the public comment period of the JDA’s regular meeting, held at the Bioscience Training Center at Stanton Springs.
The lack of transparency about the $5 billion deal, which was announced by Gov. Kemp on Dec. 16, was one of the primary concerns expressed by residents. The electric vehicle assembly and battery plant is expected to hire 7,500 employees, with production slated to begin in 2024. The plant will be located in Walton and Morgan counties and inside the city limits of Social Circle.
“To say that this is a surprise is an understatement,” said Social Circle resident James Evans. “The timing of it is questionable here at Christmastime with holidays and everything else. The biggest concern is just the lack of information. We’ve received nothing from the city of Social Circle, Walton County, the JDA, the state of Georgia, Rivian — nothing.”
Christina Wertz said she and her family had moved to Social Circle six months ago.
“Had I known what was planned for this area … I would never have moved here,” she said. … “The lack of transparency in all of this is deeply concerning to me.”
Jeanne Sutyak said she had just spent $30,000 replacing windows and floors in her Morgan County home, which she had believed would be her “forever home.”
“Am I going to be eminent domained out of my home?” she asked.
Rutledge resident John Strickland asked why the JDA had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Rivian and when it would expire.
Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County and who provides economic development services for the JDA, said the JDA will host a town hall meeting in the coming two weeks to address residents’ concerns. He said Rivian will follow up with another town hall meeting to hear from residents.
While Short said the deal is done and Rivian is coming to the area, the company is “open to listening to your concerns.”
“It’s a big impact, and we understand that,” said Short. “We did not recruit Rivian; Rivian came to the state of Georgia, and the state of Georgia came to this JDA. We were not the only community in Georgia that they looked at. They actually they looked at three other sites in Georgia. At the end of the day, the company selected Georgia. This is where they felt like they wanted to be. And we look forward to that town hall meeting where we can tell you more about the company and their footprint.”
Short said virtually every economic development project involves a non-disclosure agreement to protect companies’ interests. He said legally the JDA could not have commented on the project before it was announced by the governor.
Short said there was no intention to keep the project secret, “because, quite frankly, it benefits us. We love to tell good news, but we are legally bound by what we can and can’t say.”
He also explained that no eminent domain proceedings were used to acquire the 2,000-acre footprint that Rivian will occupy, and none is planned in the future.
“There has been zero eminent domain on this project,” he said. “Every property owner gave us a price of what they wanted for their property. That’s how it worked.”
Verner Lane resident Neil Fitzgerald expressed concerns about upgrading the infrastructure, roads in particular, prior to the plant being constructed.
“My concern is with this plant coming in and with more people coming in from everywhere, we’ve got to work on infrastructure first,” he said.
Short said there are existing engineering plans by the Georgia Department of Transportation to help control traffic.
He also said it is unlikely that many of the 7,500 employees at the auto plant will live in the area, similar to what happened at West Point with the development of the Kia plant.
“We don’t have the housing. The housing doesn’t exist, and you can’t build enough homes in that time period to house that many people,” said Short.
Short said West Point hasn’t changed much from what it was 20 years ago.
“Not many people moved to live in a rural community near that plant,” he said. “Most all of them commute. We anticipate that is what is going to be the case here because we don’t have the housing in Walton County, we don’t have the housing in Jasper, we don’t have the housing in Morgan County. They are going to have to commute to work.”
There will be some new homes built, he added, but said that the affected counties are already working to control growth with stricter zoning regulations. He said the lack of sewer will also limit development in unincorporated Walton and Morgan counties.
COVINGTON — Collard greens have a long association with the beginning of a new year in the South. While other cultures incorporate fish, sauerkraut, grapes or dumplings into their New Year’s Day good-luck feasts, Southerners are best known to dine on collard greens, black-eyed peas, pork and cornbread to ensure good luck in the coming 12 months.
According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, collards have played an important role in the lives of Southerners for decades, with some claiming that the greens kept many from starving under Sherman’s scorched-earth campaign and during the Great Depression. Today, many Southerners ascribe to the superstition that the green collard leaves represent folding money and the black-eyed peas represent coins.
Not surprisingly, the Southern states grow the most collards, with South Carolina and Georgia vying for top honors.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture reports that collards are one of the most durable greens, both in the field and in the kitchen. Although collards have two seasons — January through June and October through December — tradition dictates that New Year’s collards be cut after the first light frost and before the dew dries.
The greens are then washed (usually more than once) and cooked until tender. For many collard fans, the “potlikker” left over after the greens have been consumed is the best part of all. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture calls it “a southern version of nectar from the gods ….”
Georgia’s Farm Gate Report lumps collards in with other greens crops (kale, lettuce, mustard, spinach and turnip greens), so it’s difficult to ascertain the value of the collard crop in Georgia. Nonetheless, the top county for all greens in Georgia is Tift, which grows approximately 48% of the state’s entire crop on 1,786 acres. In 2019, the Tift County greens crop was valued at $32.6 million, which might lend credence to the superstition about collards bringing prosperity — at least for some people.
Eating competitor C. Mort Hurst holds the world’s record for eating collards, which he won several years ago at the Annual Collard Festival in Ayden, N.C. Hurst ate 7.25 pounds in 30 minutes — and held it down for five minutes.
Even if your appetite for collard greens doesn’t match Hurst’s, it couldn’t hurt to cook up a mess of greens as 2022 dawns. Considering the last two years we’ve had, we could all certainly use some good luck.
CONYERS — The city of Conyers Mayor’s State of the City Address scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 5, at Cherokee Run Golf Club, has been postponed due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Conyers and Rockdale County.
The State of the City Address is an event held annually in which the mayor shares highlights and accomplishments in the city from the previous year. This year’s event was also to include a tribute to City Council member Cleveland “Coach” Stroud for 28 years of service on the City Council, and the administering of the oaths of office to council members-elect Charlie Bryant and Eric Fears, as well as Mayor Vince Evans for his second term of office.
The 2021 State of the City address was also altered due to COVID-19. The event was closed to the general public and filmed for viewing on the city’s website.
“To err on the side of caution and with the safety of all in mind, the decision was made to postpone the State of the City Address with the intention of rescheduling in the spring,” said Mayor Evans. “Stay tuned to our city social media channels, website, and local newspapers for a new event date.”
The Conyers City Council will hold a special called meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 6 p.m. at Conyers City Hall to administer the oaths of office to Bryant, Fears and Evans. Due to health and safety concerns, the meeting will be closed to the public, but can be viewed live via the city’s website, conyersga.com.
“We encourage citizens to practice social distancing, get vaccinated, wear masks when and where appropriate, and follow the evolving guidelines of the CDC and Georgia Department of Health for everyone’s health and safety,” said Evans.
CONYERS — Getting tested for COVID-19 has turned into a test of patience as the demand for testing has surged and the wait times have grown.
For those seeking to get a test at the Springfield Baptist Church drive-through site on Iris Drive in Rockdale County, the wait before Christmas was about 20 to 30 minutes; however, on Tuesday morning, the line of cars queuing up for testing extended west on Iris Drive for nearly a mile to Salem Gate Way.
The wait times became so long Wednesday that Mako, the partner that conducts the onsite testing, decided to temporarily close the site until more staff can be brought in to ensure that staff and patients are safe. They hope to become operational again next week. The Mako mass testing site in Henry County was also closed Tuesday, although it was unclear if the decision was made by the Henry County Health Department or the Henry County government.
Georgia set a record high for coronavirus cases Tuesday. The state Department of Public Health reported 13,670 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 or likely cases detected by positive antigen rapid tests, the highest total since early January.
Chad Wasdin, public information officer for the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments, said testing remains an important part of addressing the pandemic, so that individuals can know if they’re infected with COVID-19. However, the omicron variant has rapidly spread, putting greater pressure on testing sites at Springfield Baptist and Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth.
“Unfortunately, across our district both of our testing sites as well as other testing sites, like private providers and community initiatives, are experiencing high demand and long lines,” said Wasdin in an email to the Citizen. “It isn’t unique to our location. Part of the challenge is current demand versus available staffing resources.”
Wasdin said the lack of available staffing makes it difficult to open additional mass testing sites.
The Health Department is currently putting emphasis on increasing the vaccination rate. The health district operates a mass vaccination site at Gwinnett Place Mall in the former Sears building, at 2100 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth. Vaccines are also available at the health departments in Covington and Conyers.
“At the Health Department, our public health response is currently focused on making vaccine more widely available to our communities, and we are utilizing our staff to do that in our mass vaccination site and our health centers,” said Wasdin.
As of Tuesday, 43% of Newton residents were fully vaccinated, with 29% having also received the booster. In Rockdale County, 51% were fully vaccinated, with 32% also having received the booster.
“By increasing vaccination numbers, we will increase protection and decrease avenues of spread in our communities,” said Wasdin.
Wasdin said the Health Department recognizes the frustration experienced by those seeking to get tested.
“For individuals who are ill and cannot or choose not to wait in line for a test, the absolute best measure is to stay at home and recover (unless medical care is needed),” said Wasdin. “The same also goes for those who are symptomatic and waiting for their results. By staying home when ill, we will limit the spread of COVID-19 and other pathogens, like flu, which is also rising in our communities.”
There have been more than 1.8 million confirmed or likely cases of COVID-19 in Georgia since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to the DPH. The virus has hospitalized 93,893 Georgians and resulted in 4,984 probable deaths.
As of Dec. 28, Rockdale reported 10,572 confirmed COVID cases, with 1,235 of those occurring over the prior two weeks. In Newton, there have been 12,842 total confirmed cases, with 1,225 of those reported over the past two weeks. More than 500 people in Rockdale and Newton have died as a result of the pandemic — 240 in Rockdale and 328 in Newton.