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Posted: July 17, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Letter to the editor: A wildlifer’s look at the 2050 Plan

While Newton County has an identity, Oak Hill, Oxford, Porterdale, Covington and Mansfield all have their own unique personalities. The people from these communities and the rural lands in between are from somewhere – somewhere with its own identity. Have you ever asked yourself where places like Clarkston, Lithonia, Doraville and other such “towns” start and stop? Folks of my vintage will remember a song from 1974 by the Atlanta Rhythm Section with the lyrics, “Doraville, Touch of country in the city.” Really? Exactly where is that “touch?”

What happened to that community identity and why does a wildlife biologist who leads the Georgia Wildlife Federation care whether apartments, strip malls, fire stations, schools, parking lots and the like here in Newton County blend our communities into a single mosaic firmly attached to the great sprawl of Atlanta currently lying to our west? Please let me explain why.

I read with great interest that the Covington-Newton Newton Chamber of Commerce supports the principles and purposes of The 2050 Plan and specifically getting people to the public forums. So, too, does the Georgia Wildlife Federation, the state’s oldest member-based conservation organization, who just over a decade ago chose Newton County to locate its statewide headquarters.

The Federation’s top priority as a statewide conservation initiative is water. The first principle listed in the 2050 Plan is “protect clean water.” Water is not only required to sustain our lives, but also water provides for quality living. And how we develop the land determines just how much dirt and pollution that we place in our water and waterways. It determines whether or not development high in the basin in effect seizes riparian rights from people and landowners lower in the basin. It determines how much burden we place on tax payers to clean up the water, and it determines whether fish and other water dependent wildlife will be around to add quality to our lives.

The 2050 Plan also protects upland habitats and its dependent wildlife. Last year many residents of Newton County became a bit perturbed over a proposed ordinance further limiting discharge of firearms. For many of these people, the issue hinged on hunting and shooting sports and the erosion of those existing rights and privileges. The 2050 Plan will concentrate development onto 38 percent of the county’s acreage. Status-quo will spread that development to 75 percent of the land base. Stated simply, it will not take a future ordinance to seize the rights, privileges and enjoyment of these activities from Newton County residents. For all practical purposes these opportunities will simply fade away over the next four decades. Gun control ordinances are not nearly as much threat to gun owners as is the simple failure to plan the type of community that we want to call home.

The Georgia Wildlife Federation feels that the 2050 Plan puts us on a different and better path. And the process is one of bringing the public and the various governments of Newton County together to define and describe the path. This interaction and cooperation are how community governance is supposed to work. The result will be simpler and consistent regulations with huge savings to tax payers. The water treatment facilities, roads and schools that heretofore counties provide to subsidize unplanned developments will not have to be underwritten by the Newton County tax payer.

Public meetings scheduled by the Leadership Collaborative provide a great way to learn about and comment on the specifics. Please check the meeting schedule listed in the local papers for a location and date convenient for you.

Todd Holbrook, President and CEO
Georgia Wildlife Federation

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