Dirt Roads

I’m a pretty typical transplant to Oglethorpe County; in fact, I thought at the time nearly five years ago that I was part of a coming thing out here. Now I’m sure I’m right about that. We didn’t just choose Oglethorpe County as our dream home; we were driven out of Clarke County and ended up here. Oglethorpe County is starting to grow—due to people like my husband and myself who are seeking more favorable habitation.

We came here to get away from the communication towers and crime in our Athens neighborhood. My biggest worry then and now was the lack of definitive zoning out here. I was terrified someone was going to build a convenience store across the street from us in Crawford or put up one of those towers I had escaped from.

Now my most immediate worry is my dirt road.

We moved out of Crawford to this quiet spot in the countryside to get away from the noise of the “city”. I knew that someone would come along eventually and decide to pave our road and I was afraid it would be sooner than later. Three months later representatives of the Oconee Baptist Church are requesting “improvements” to our road.

Our first couple of weeks out here post ice storm were treacherous. The continual freezing and thawing kept the road in a nasty condition. Since then we have been amazed at how well the road has been maintained. We also have had three tires repairs in these three months.

BUT…we don’t want the road paved. I’ve spoken with a few other neighbors near me and further out the road and not one has said they want the road paved now. I’m sorry that the church goers feel this road presents them with a “hardship”. This road is well maintained (even better than we expected) and is rarely a problem. I live here. I know.

This lesser problem of road paving is a symptom, however, of what is already happening here. Growth. Oconee County is no longer the idyllic, close to the city, almost rural haven it was ten years ago when we actually considered moving there. Now it’s getting crowded; land prices and taxes are rising; schools are bursting at the scenes. This growth has reached a stage that presents their residents with new problems that sound like the old ones they moved away from before. Now they are leaving Oconee and heading here.

Jackson County and Barrow County are seeing the same thing with the sprawling Atlanta growth. Folks have only one way to go and, friends, it is our direction.

Barbara Cabiniss recently told me that the school system has 30 new students monthly. The traffic in Crawford has reached difficult proportions. A bypass is being planned that may change the face of Oglethorpe County forever.

I originally moved to Athens in 1968. I have had the opportunity to watch the growth over the last 30 years. I have had the opportunity to personally experience the problems that growth and the lack of planning for that growth have brought. In the end, that is exactly why I live in Oglethorpe County. That is exactly why Oglethorpe County is growing.

You can’t stop the growth; you can’t stop “progress”. I am strongly aware that someday someone will pave my dirt road.

BUT…hear me—it’s now time to lay plans, study what has been done wrong in other places, make decisions about how this growth is going to be managed.

I know that zoning is being worked on here. This is a crucial step to controlling our lifestyle. Fortunately, we don’t have to do this from scratch. For example, Gwen O’Looney told me after the tower fiasco in Athens that they would be glad to share their rewritten tower ordinance. If you haven’t lived in the shadow of one or two or, in our case, three of those towers, you cannot imagine what it’s like. Let’s be sure to look at this carefully.

Growth brings solutions to problems as well as problems. Let’s concentrate on improving services such as our fire departments. This affects everyone’s pocketbook as well as safety. Please lower my insurance costs and help me to feel safer in my 100 year old home.

Let’s upgrade our sheriff’s department. Increase my taxes and pay the officers better and hire more officers. Go ahead, Crawford, start a city police department. If it can pay for itself and make the streets safer up there, I’m all for it.

We have to build more schools. Let’s lay good plans for that now. Let’s start building before our kids are attending schools in those trailer classrooms. Let’s not wait ‘til the buildings are busting out at the seams.

Let’s start planning for growth in our city water systems, our city roads, city water treatment systems. These will cost money.

All this growth will cost money. We have to make financial decisions about the future and paving roads is part of that. Robert Johnson says we got less LARP (Local Assess Road Program) funds this years. We can’t pave as much in the county as before.

Let’s look at priorities. On my want list, paving roads is at the bottom and then paving county roads outside city limits is lower than that. The county has to decide where to rank the roads. At $200,000 per mile, paving dirt roads just doesn’t seem important.

Please let’s not let the coming growth ruin the very reasons for that growth. Please, let me and many of our new neighbors stay here for a long time and enjoy what Oglethorpe County offers now. That happens to include our dirt road.