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Crowell Road I-20 interchange could get fix in 2016
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The Crowell Road I-20 interchange can confuse drivers because there are two stoplights – the one for the I-20 ramp and the one for the Access Road – separated by barely 100 feet, and it’s led to some traffic backups and safety issues over the years.

County Chairman Keith Ellis hopes the area could be redone during 2016, following the state’s recommitment in late March to provide $500,000 of funding to the project.

The main change would be to relocate the Access and Crowell roads intersection further south on Crowell so that traffic doesn’t get bunched up with the I-20 traffic, Ellis said.

He said the county is asking for even more money and for the project to be fast tracked. The Georgia Department of Transportation’s letter said it will provide the $500,000 in fiscal year 2017, which runs from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

A preliminary design has been created, but GDOT is asking for some modifications, Ellis said.

The project’s design will depend on what right-of-way the county is able to purchase, but Ellis said the county does not want to harm any businesses in the area.

In related news, the county previously applied for a GDOT GATEway Grant to beautify the Crowell/Almon Road exit, exit 88, among others.

Money trees
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but harvesting the right kind of trees can lead to some serious cash.
Newton County could make up to $729,589 by harvesting the timber on the 1,285-acre site of the future Bear Creek Reservoir.

Mack Barber, a registered forester, was hired to appraise the site during the past six weeks, and he told the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday there’s money to be made.

He said the southern portion of the proposed reservoir site has the best hardwoods and didn’t appear to have ever been cut previously. He said that area could bring $1,600 an acre. He estimated other areas of the reservoir would bring $600 an acre, $400 an acre and $300 acre. The lower values were tied to lower quality timber due to wetter climates as well as the fact the timber had been cut previously.

Chairman Ellis said the county needed to first seek out County Attorney Tommy Craig’s advice about whether cutting the timber now would jeopardize the effort to get the 404 permit (refers to Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act) needed to being construction on the reservoir. The permit is issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Board tabled the item, as Ellis said he just wanted to provide them with information at this point.

When asked about the next steps, Barber said the county would need to decide which area it wanted to cut first and seek bids from area timber companies.

Because the timber is on what will be a lake basin, the land will be totally cleared, with the exception of any area the county would want to leave for future fish habitats, Barber said.

Any money made by selling the timber would most likely have to be returned to the county’s water fund, not the general fund, because the reservoir is a water project, Ellis said.

In addition, Barber appraised some timber at the county’s landfill site on Lower River Road, and he said there was some excellent oak hardwood that could bring close to $1,000 an acre.

County renews landscape contract
The Board voted 4-0 to renew its landscaping contract with Conyers-based G&G Landscape Management Group at $67,680, the same price as last year.

Commissioner John Douglas abstained from the vote, but did not publicly give a reason.

G&G Landscape won the contract last year with the lowest bid, following the board cancelling its contract with prior provider Durden’s Lawn Maintenance because the company had operated for periods of time without a business license.

Durden is currently suing the county for wrongful termination of his contract, and, in a separate lawsuit, is personally suing Chairman Ellis, County Manager John Middleton and G&G Landscape owner Gary Campbell for conspiring to cause him to lose his contract. All parties have denied the allegations.

G&G’s Landscape had the lowest bid in 2013 by $12,553. The contact includes mowing, weed-eating, chemical weed control, trimming and cleaning of trash and debris, among other tasks, at 21 sites around the county. G&G Landscape also has the city’s landscape contract.

In related news, the county also renewed its contract for one year with Orkin for pest control services for all county facilities for $6,498.