City of Hiawassee sets public hearing on budget for May 26

city of hiawassee
City of Hiawasee

Liz Ordiales
Mayor of the City of Hiawassee.

In their Tuesday night meeting, the Hiawassee City Council approved holding a public hearing for the proposed budget during a work session on the same day as the public hearing on May 26. They will have a second reading and vote on the budget on June 2 at 6 p.m. To see the meeting agenda, visit here.

Announced that anyone who wanted to contribute to the Community Scholarship for Towns County Seniors could contribute at either City Hall, 50 River Street Hiawassee, GA 30546 by postal mail or by dropping it in one of the boxes. Contributions can also be made at Towns County High School at 1400 Highway 76 E, Hiawassee, GA 30546.

In other Hiawassee news, the council approved:

  • Approval of the Water Treatment Payment to GEFA loan DW98026 for 35%  of the total amount at $237,585.
  • Approval of Property Insurance through GIRMA- $39,996 annual.
  • Approval of the Inter-Governmental Agreement with City and DDA  at $20,000 annual.
  • Approval of Contract with Colditz for work at Lloyds Landing/Hospital Crosswalk not to exceed $53,000.
  • For the latest COVID-19 numbers in Towns County, visit here.

Visitors not welcome in Hiawassee as COVID-19 gains ground

Hiawassee coronavirus

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for its work session on March 30, to discuss the growing COVID-19 virus, strongly urging area visitors to stay away. Council members unanimously approved an ordinance to close all lodging facilities in Hiawassee, an act to discourage the influx of travelers seen in recent days. The 30-day declaration takes effect on the morning of Tuesday, March 31.

Restaurants are limited to delivery, takeout, and drive-thru only, and businesses offering personal services closed their doors following the city’s emergency declaration last week.

Click to read: Towns County asks visitors to stay home as pandemic grows

Towns County is expected to enact similar measures at a called meeting on March 31. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales stated that the City of Hiawassee has been in constant contact with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby in order to ensure “in-sync” actions with the jurisdictions. Ordiales added that the city has been in communication with the Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control, as well as Georgia Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Toomey who is leading the charge against the virus in the state. “The info is not good,” Mayor Ordiales grimly announced in reference to the statistics’ outlook.

Personal Protection Equipment is arriving daily, the mayor said, and 1,200 ventilators will be delivered in the state. Test results to determine if patients have contracted the coronavirus are typically taking two days, Ordiales said, and thousands of tests are expected to be analyzed as opposed to the hundreds currently conducted.

No curfew has been enacted in the City of Hiawassee at this time.

Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. asked City Attorney Thomas Mitchell if action could be taken to reduce the level of out-of-town shoppers at the city’s lone grocery store. Mitchell said that it could not be legally pursued, and as far as travel restrictions, local governments in Georgia do not have the authority to ban travel without consent from the state. The mayor and council stressed, however, that visitors are discouraged from venturing to the area.

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith stated that a city officer is experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19. The officer is currently quarantined and will receive testing in Gainesville on Wednesday. Serve-Pro is providing sterilization of the city patrol vehicles, free of charge.

Mayor Ordiales relayed that Economic Developer Denise McKay has been assisting small business owners in the area, working in conjunction with the Small Business Association.

The Hiawassee City Council meeting was live-streamed on social media to provide social distancing requirements for council and citizens. Although there are confirmed cases in bordering White County and Clay County, NC, Towns County remains free of confirmed coronavirus cases at the time of this printing.

Continue to follow FYN for coverage of Towns County’s amended emergency order in addition to further developments on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feature Image Credit: City of Hiawassee

Citizens, activists react to inability to vote on fluoride

Hiawassee Fluoride

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Negative public feedback emerged following FYN’s report stating that Towns County citizens will not have a say on the potential addition of fluoride to their water. The controversial issue was expected to go before both county and city voters on the May 19 ballot due to many county residents consuming water from the City of Hiawassee’s supply. The news was initially announced via Towns County Board of Elections Chair Janet Olivia on March 3, with Olivia describing the change as government “miscommunication.”

Click to read: County citizens not permitted to vote on water fluoridation

FYN spoke with Towns County attorney Robb Kiker, March 5. Kiker explained that because only city residents signed a 2019 circulated petition to place the fluoride referendum on the ballot, county electors are not permitted to participate in the decision. Additionally, Kiker stated that a city cannot call for a countywide referendum.  FYN contacted Corbin McLain, the county resident who was tasked with collecting the signatures for the City of Hiawassee last summer. McLain stated that she was instructed by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. per the Environmental Protection Divison (EPD), to solely garner city support for the ballot referendum. A total of 35 signatures were submitted to the Towns County Board of Elections, 10-percent of the Hiawassee citizens who voted in the last election, an amount mandated by the EPD. In a letter obtained by FYN, Georgia EPD relayed to Mayor Ordiales last year that both city and county citizens should vote on the measure, considering that Towns County residents receive City of Hiawassee water, per instruction from the State Attorney’s Office.

“We were under the impression that all voters would have the opportunity to cast their opinion on this matter,” Mayor Ordiales told FYN on March 5. “At this time, our attorneys, both County and City, are in touch with the State to determine how to proceed.”

Ordiales added that an update will be provided once a resolution is received from the EPD. FYN contacted several Hiawassee City Council members who expressed that county voters should have a say in the matter and that they were under the full assumption that would be the case.

FYN discussed the matter with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw on numerous occasions throughout the past year, with Bradshaw consistently expecting a countywide vote to take place this spring.”I was surprised to hear the news,”Bradshaw said earlier this week. “I was led to believe that both city and county voters would decide on whether to add fluoride.”

Citizens opposing fluoridation of the local water supply have since launched a Facebook page to draw attention to the contested issue. While some proponents of fluoridation list the dental benefits attributed to the additive, critics claim that the dangers outweigh the good.

“The Fluoride Action Network (FAN) has documented hundreds of published, peer-reviewed studies finding evidence of fluoride’s harms,” FAN Chair Rick North told FYN on Thursday. “Many have been funded by the National Institutes of Health and have found that levels in fluoridated water are linked to significantly lower IQs and higher ADHD rates in children. Many organizations that once endorsed fluoridation have pulled back and no longer take a position, including the Alzheimer’s Association, National Down Syndrome Society, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Kidney Fund and Center for Science in the Public Interest. It’s actually one of the most widely rejected health interventions in the world, opposed by most nations, including nearly all in Europe, and 95% of the world’s population. Fluoride is available topically in toothpaste if people want it. But FAN believes that no one should be forced to ingest a drug they oppose through drinking water, taking away their freedom of choice.”

Dr. Johnny Johnson Jr., a pediatric dentist and President of the American Fluoridation Society, offered support for fluoridation in an email to FYN.

“Fluoridation has been identified as the most practical and cost-effective method of delivering fluoride to all members of a community, regardless of age, education, or income,” Johnson said in part. “These advantages, combined with fluoridation’s contribution to dramatic declines in both the prevalence and severity of tooth decay, led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name water fluoridation one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century. I work with the non-profit, all-volunteer, unpaid group of healthcare providers of the American Fluoridation Society.  Our work is to disseminate evidence-based credible science on water fluoridation.  We do not accept a single penny for our efforts.  The opponents to water fluoridation have scared pregnant moms and used fear-invoking pseudoscience to cause people to question water fluoridation. We work to defend and protect the health, safety, and well-being of our countries families.”

FYN will continue to follow developments on the fluoride referendum leading up to the May 19 General Primary.

Hiawassee nationally recognized as Firewise Community

Hiawassee Firewise

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee was recently recognized as a National Firewise Community by state and local firefighters eager to welcome the loss prevention project to the county seat.

The National Firewise Communities Program is an interagency project that encourages partnerships among communities, homeowners, private industry, tribes, public agencies, and officials to develop and implement local solutions for wildfire preparedness – before a fire starts.

“Firewise is something that effects us all,” Michael Courey, Chairman of the Towns County Firewise Coalition, said. “Indeed, it’s one of the programs we use in the country, which there are about 1500 FireWise communities in this country, and in 2002, they started with 12 as a pilot program to see if it would work. And the whole purpose of it is to decrease the likelihood that there would be property damage or loss of life due to wildfires. Now I came up here to live in an area of the woods, in an area that is nestled in the trees. Little did I know coming from asphalt-city of Tampa that there was such a thing as wildfires. Of course, that happened to people in California, and certainly didn’t happen to people in Hiawassee and Young Harris or Towns County, but indeed, it certainly can.”

Towns County Firewise

Towns County Firewise Chairman Michael Courey

Courey warned that area homes are a “pile of fuel ready for a forest fire to take over.”

Click to read: Firewise promotes gutter sprinklers to deter wildfire damage

“So when a community says. like Hiawassee and Young Harris as a city, that we are going to take action to try and decrease the likelihood that our town will become a Gatlinburg; Can you prevent it? No, but you can help it not happen,” Courey explained. “Can you imagine an 82-year-old person, been living in Gatlinburg all their life, and them saying, ‘What’s this wildfire stuff? I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen anything of significance take hold as far as a fire.’ Well, wait a couple of minutes, and you know what happened to Gatlinburg.”

In late 2016, nearly 18,000 acres of forestland were consumed by fire in the Gatlinburg, TN, area, destroying 2,460 structures.

Georgia has 109 recognized Firewise communities, 23 of which are located in Towns County.

Courey saluted “the city, and the city council, and the mayor for taking action” and enabling Hiawassee to decrease flammable areas at risk.

Citizens to decide water fluoridation on May ballot

Towns County fluoride

HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Towns County residents will be given an option on the General Primary ballot, May 19, regarding the addition of fluoride to the City of Hiawassee water supply. A petition opposing the addition of fluoride was circulated in the community in 2019, garnering enough signatures to place the decision on the ballot for both Hiawassee and Towns County consumers. According to Hiawassee City Hall, 35 citizens signed the circulated petition, enough to advance the referendum.

The City of Hiawassee received notice in early 2019 from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) that the mineral has not been an additive in the water supply for decades.

“During the routine inspection, it was discovered that the Hiawassee Water System did not add fluoride as a treatment process,” EPD Environmental Compliance Specialist Alisha Bailey wrote in an email obtained by FYN. “According to the current ORC, Mr. Randall Thomas, Hiawassee WTP has not treated the water with fluoride in over 20 years. All potable water sources must be fluoridated, according to the Rules for Safe Drinking Water 391-3-5-.16 Fluoridation. Amended. In certain cases, some water systems had received a waiver from the state or there was a vote within the board of the water system as to not add fluoride to the drinking water.”

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales responded, informing EPD that a vote to reject local fluoridation had taken place 36 years prior. Ordiales included a copy of city council minutes from 1983 as evidence.

FYN reported public opposition to fluoridation after Fluoride Action Network published FYN’s initial report on the city’s intent. According to its mission statement, “Fluoride Action Network seeks to broaden awareness among citizens, scientists, and policymakers on the toxicity of fluoride compounds. FAN provides comprehensive and up-to-date information and remains vigilant in monitoring government agency actions that impact the public’s exposure to fluoride.”

Fluoride is the ionic form of fluorine, the thirteenth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. It is released into the environment naturally in both water and air. Its concentration in water is variable. Water is the major dietary source of fluoride. The variability in water content explains much of the variability in total fluoride intake. Other important sources of fluoride are tea, seafood that contains edible bones or shells, medicinal supplements, and fluoridated toothpaste. Fluoride compounds are also produced by some industrial processes that use the mineral apatite, a mixture of calcium phosphate compounds. Dietary fluoride is absorbed rapidly in the stomach and small intestine. One-quarter to one-third of the absorbed fluoride is taken up into calcified tissues, whereas the rest is lost in the urine. In bone and teeth, fluoride can displace hydroxyl ions from hydroxyapatite to produce fluorapatite or fluorohydroxyapatite. About 99% of total body fluoride is contained in bones and teeth, and the amount steadily increases during life. The recommended intake for fluoride is expressed as an adequate intake rather than recommended dietary allowance, because of the limited data available to determine the population needs.

The adequate intake for fluoride is 0.7 mg daily for toddlers, rising to 3 mg daily for adult women and 4 mg daily for adult men. It remains unclear whether fluoride is truly essential, although fluoride may have some beneficial effects. Once taken up into bone, fluoride appears to increase osteoblast activity and bone density, especially in the lumbar spine. Fluoride has been suggested as a therapy for osteoporosis since the 1960s, but despite producing denser bone, fracture risk is not reduced. Indeed, there is some evidence that nonvertebral fractures may be increased. The only known association with low fluoride intake is the risk of dental caries, acting through both pre-eruptive and post-eruptive mechanisms. The American Dental Association strongly supports fluoridation of community drinking water supplies; however, strong contradictory opinions also are held.

Starting in 1962, the United States Public Health Service recommended that public water supplies contain between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter (mg/L) of drinking water to help prevent tooth decay.

This recommendation was updated in 2015 to a fluoride level of 0.7 mg/L, The change was made in part to account for the fact that people now get more fluoride from other sources than in the past. Natural drinking water sources in the US have an average fluoride level of about 0.2 mg/L, although in some areas it can be much higher.


Hiawassee, Young Harris approve JDA; Towns County to follow

Anne Mitchell - Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council unanimously approved the municipality’s Joint Development Authority (JDA) agreement last week, following a motion made by Councilmember Nancy Noblet, and seconded by Councilmember Patsy Owens, to “remove Manny Carrion and replace Joe Ruf.” The City of Young Harris activated its JDA on Feb. 4, with Councilmember John Kelley making a motion to approve the resolution creating the JDA, seconded by Councilmember Matt Miller, and approved unanimously.

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw told FYN last week that county attorney Robb Kiker is reviewing its portion of the JDA, and adoption is expected to take place at the February commissioner’s meeting.

Each jurisdiction is allotted three board members, for a total of nine JDA directors.

Patsy Owens- Hiawassee City Council

Hiawassee Councilmember Patsy Owens at the Jan. 27 work session.

“It is hereby declared that there is a need for a joint development authority to function in and throughout Towns County, in the City of Young Harris and the City of Hiawassee, which county and municipalities are herein called Participating Jurisdictions,” the resolution reads. “Pursuant to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 36-62-5.1, such joint development authority is hereby created and activated. Such joint development authority shall be known as the ‘Joint Development Authority of Towns County and the Cities of Young Harris and Hiawassee’ (the ‘Authority’). The Authority shall transact business pursuant to and exercise the powers provided by, the provisions of, the Development Authorities Law, codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 36, Chapter 62, as the same now exists and as it may be hereafter amended. Section 2.”

According to the resolution, each of the members appointed shall serve an initial term commencing on the date of the creation of the Authority and expiring as set forth in two-to-six-year increments. After expiration of the initial term of each such appointed member, the terms of office of his or her respective successor shall be terms of four (4) calendar years and each such term of office shall be filled by appointment of the governing body that appointed the member whose term expired in accordance with the above requirements. If at the end of any term of any such appointed member, a successor to such member has not been appointed, the member whose term of office has expired shall continue to hold office until his or her successor is appointed, which appointment shall be for the balance of the term being filled. If a vacancy occurs in the case of any such appointed member, the governing body of the Participating Jurisdiction that appointed such member shall appoint a successor to serve for the balance of the term being filled in accordance with the requirements.

Development Authorities have a range of powers which include: developing and promoting downtowns; making long-range plans or proposals for downtowns; financing (by loan, grant, lease, borrow or otherwise) projects for the public good; executing contracts and agreements;  purchasing, leasing or selling property; and issuing revenue bonds and notes.

Featured Image: Hiawassee Councilmember and Mayor Pro-Tem Anne Mitchell at the council’s January work session.

Joint Development agreement to move before Hiawassee City Council

Amy Barrett - Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on  Joint Development Authority (JDA) activation, an intergovernmental agreement which is comprised of a total of nine members: three members each from the City of Hiawassee, the City of Young Harris, and Towns County. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales selected the following individuals to serve on the economic development board: Joseph Ruf, Joshua Alexander, and Eurydice V. Constantinides.

Listed on the resolution is Towns County’s JDA member selection: Stephanie McConnell, H. Daniel Burch, and Dwayne Anthony Phillips. It is undetermined at the time of publication when Towns County anticipates activating its agreement.

The City of Young Harris has yet to appoint members to the board. “As was stated previously, the council has not chosen anyone,” Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby told FYN. “The council also has not formally approved the JDA. That will probably happen at the next meeting.” Young Harris City Council meets Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m.

The members of the JDA will receive no compensation for their service other than reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.

Hiawassee City Council

Hiawassee City Council agenda for Feb. 4, 2020.

“It is hereby declared that there is a need for a joint development authority to function in and throughout Towns County, in the City of Young Harris and the City of Hiawassee, which county and municipalities are herein called Participating Jurisdictions,” the resolution reads. “Pursuant to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 36-62-5.1, such joint development authority is hereby created and activated. Such joint development authority shall be known as the “Joint Development Authority of Towns County and the Cities of Young Harris and Hiawassee” (the “Authority”). The Authority shall transact business pursuant to and exercise the powers provided by, the provisions of, the Development Authorities Law, codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 36, Chapter 62, as the same now exists and as it may be hereafter amended. Section 2.”

According to the resolution, each of the members appointed shall serve an initial term commencing on the date of the creation of the Authority and expiring as set forth in two-to-six-year increments. After expiration of the initial term of each such appointed member, the terms of office of his or her respective successor shall be terms of four (4) calendar years and each such term of office shall be filled by appointment of the governing body that appointed the member whose term expired in accordance with the above requirements. If at the end of any term of any such appointed member, a successor to such member has not been appointed, the member whose term of office has expired shall continue to hold office until his or her successor is appointed, which appointment shall be for the balance of the term being filled. If a vacancy occurs in the case of any such appointed member, the governing body of the Participating Jurisdiction that appointed such member shall appoint a successor to serve for the balance of the term being filled in accordance with the requirements.

Hiawassee City Council will meet for its regular session, Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 6 p.m. at Hiawassee City Hall.

Feature Image: Hiawassee City Councilwoman Amy Barrett

SPLOST to appear on spring ballot

Towns County SPLOST

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw requested that the Board of Elections include a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) referendum on the May 19, 2020 primary ballot.

“The school’s SPLOST tax runs out in October…,” Bradshaw said last week. “Ours will pick up when theirs cuts out, when theirs ends. So there would be no increase on taxes from what it is right now. And the reason we’re asking for the SPLOST tax is to remodel this courthouse and possibly do an addition on it because all of the judges since I have been here have come in and actually told me you all need to do some work here at the courthouse. We’re not handicapped compliant, and there’s several other reasons as you can look around and see. We just need to be updated.

Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

“Also, we would use the money for the fire department to upgrade some of our fire trucks and things like that. Also for our road department to upgrade their equipment. It’s been many, many years since we replaced any of the dump trucks. our backhoe or sidearm machine that mow your banks and things like that. And then we’d also put in there for parks and rec. We might need to do some fencing and things like that at Foster Park.”

Additionally, the City of Hiawassee scheduled a special-called meeting for Monday, Jan. 27 at 6 pm, immediately preceding the council’s regular work session. “It will begin with a special-called meeting to discuss and vote on the SPLOST Referendum and the Fluoride Resolution,” Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick told FYN.

Click for City of Hiawassee fluoride archives

SPLOST is an optional one percent county sales tax used to fund capital outlay projects proposed by the county government and participating qualified municipal governments. In general, county and municipal governments may not use SPLOST proceeds for operating expenses or maintenance of a SPLOST project1 or any other county or municipal facility or service. SPLOST is levied in what the law refers to as a “special district,” which is comprised of the entire territory of the county calling for the SPLOST. By using special districts, the revenue of a county tax
can be constitutionally shared with participating municipalities. The tax is imposed when the board of commissioners – or in the case of Towns County, the sole commissioner – calls a local referendum (i.e., vote)  and the referendum is subsequently passed by the voters within the county.

The tax is collected on items subject to the sales and use tax within the county. The SPLOST is also imposed on the sale of food and nonalcoholic beverages, which are not subject to the state sales tax, and is also imposed on the sale of alcoholic beverages.


Council sworn-in at Hiawassee City Hall

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – City of Hiawassee Councilmembers Jay Chastain Jr., Anne Mitchell, and Nancy Noblet were sworn into office by Hiawassee Clerk Bonnie Kendrick during a ceremony at Hiawassee City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020.

Chastain, Mitchell, and Noblet each swore to the following oath in unison:

“I will well and truly perform the duties of City Councilmember of the City of Hiawassee, Georgia, that I will faithfully enforce the law of this City, that I will support and defend the Charter thereof as well as the Constitution and laws of the State of Georgia and the United States of America, and that I will do all in my power to promote the general welfare of the inhabitants of the City of Hiawassee, and the common interest thereof.

“I do further solemnly swear and affirm that I am not the holder of any unaccounted for public money due this State or any political subdivision or authority thereof; that I am not the holder of any office of trust under the government of the United States, any other state, or any foreign state which, by the laws of the State of Georgia I am prohibited from holding; that I am otherwise qualified to hold said office, according to the Constitution and Laws of Georgia.
So help me God.”

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales indicated at the ceremony that she had met with returning Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. earlier in the day to discuss subjects that have “been lingering for a while that (Chastain) has history for.” Chastain nodded in agreement with the mayor’s announcement.

Mayor Ordiales additionally announced that the Department of Transportation has agreed to install a crosswalk on State Route 76, leading across from Chatuge Regional Hospital. The mayor said that the hospital will fund their side of the roadway, with the city funding the southern side to ensure that the curb is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ordiales estimated the cost to the city at approximately $3,000.

Hiawassee City Council will meet for its work session on Monday, Jan. 27, at 6 pm in the upstairs training room at city hall. Mayor Ordiales is expected to present the City of Hiawassee’s 2019 “Year-in-Review” at that time.

Meetings are open to the public.

Featured Image: Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick swearing-in Councilmembers (L-R) Anne Mitchell, Nancy Noblet, and Jay Chastain Jr.

Related Archive:

Outspoken councilman returns to Hiawassee City Hall


Sewer spills at Hiawassee’s ‘shutdown’ station

Investigative Report, News
Sewer shutdown - Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Problems related to a sewer lift station that the City of Hiawassee allegedly decommissioned last year continue to literally surface in the form of wastewater seepage, along with a need for Towns County assistance. FYN received citizen reports of an apparent waste spill at the city-owned lift station known as Roadrunner on Saturday, Dec. 28. The information was later confirmed through Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD). The EPD launched an investigation into the Roadrunner shut down in November, and the case remains open and active at this time. The investigation was spawned due to negative effects on businesses located in Towns County’s entertainment district.

Click to read Hiawassee disconnects multiple businesses from sewer system

Click to read EPD launches investigation into Hiawassee sewer shutdown

“The report indicated that an overflow of approximately 50-100 gallons of raw sewage occurred from the city’s Roadrunner lift station due to a malfunctioning float switch, but that the sewage did not enter state waters,” EPD District Manager Mick Smith said in response to the recent seepage. “The report indicated the operator was on-site when the overflow occurred and that the sewage was contained on site.  This was verified by the city’s operator this morning.” Smith stated that city staff applied lime to minimize the odor incurred. Hay was additionally strewn on the soiled site.

Hiawassee sewer system

City of Hiawassee employees responding to the Dec. 28 sewage spill.

Float switches monitor water level changes. At a certain water height, the switch is activated, turning the pump on and off. Spills from untreated wastewater can pose a hazardous effect on the ecosystem and public health.

Furthermore, Towns County Fire and Rescue was summoned to service the Roadrunner station on the morning of Jan. 2. Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland explained that the City of Hiawassee requested county assistance with “backflushing” the sewage well. City of Hiawassee Clerk Bonnie Kendrick stated on Friday that the wastewater in the lift was diverted to Shallows Creek on Route 288 and that the station in question remains bypassed.

The fact that the lift station spilled and required backflushing left business owners adversely affected by the alleged shutdown questioning whether the city had decommissioned the wastewater well after all.

Ken Merritt, the property owner of multiple businesses involved in the dilemma, believes that the City of Hiawassee may have specifically targeted the county’s entertainment district. “My question is, if they are deactivating the line and turning it off to save electric bills, why is it still running, and why does it need to be? Who is still using it, and did (the mayor) just shut us off?”

FYN took Merritt’s concerns to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales for answers.

“The Road Runner lift station will be used by the city to routinely provide maintenance to the wastewater system,” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales said. “The cause of the seepage this past week was due to the pipe being clogged north of the Ridges lift station.  This, while not being a common occurrence, happens periodically.  The TC Fire Department, with their force water pumps, have been gracious and very helpful in the past to assist with such issues.  That was the case in the past week’s issue.  This is normal maintenance of our system, and we will continue to provide such maintenance as needed throughout our system.”

The function of lift stations is to ensure wastewater makes it to the treatment plant. The power of gravity is utilized to shuttle the material. Because of how mountainous the local terrain is, however, wastewater needs help along the way. That’s where lift stations come in. They elevate the wastewater so that it can reach a position to rely on gravity, assisting in the process.

Merritt and his legal counsel are considering their next steps toward Mayor Ordiales, council members, and the City of Hiawassee itself. “The issue that the lift station is still functioning and serving others makes it appear that (the mayor) just wanted to shut us down,” Merritt said. Merritt – upon advice from the mayor – recently installed a costly, higher-powered pump in the lift station to increase the push of waste toward the city’s treatment plant.

In an Aug. 26 letter addressed to the EPD by Merritt’s attorney, legal counsel claimed that the “unilateral decision of the City of Hiawassee to discontinue the use of and the bypass of the Roadrunner lift station” has harmed the Merritt’s system due to excessive reverse pressure on the network. “The City of Hiawassee has continuously charged a monthly sewer service bill to each property owner connected to and using the sanitary sewer extension,” the attorney added.

According to the EPA, when the power supply is interrupted, flow conveyance is discontinued and can result in flooding upstream of the lift station. It can also interrupt the regular operation of the downstream wastewater conveyance and facilities.

Merritt’s lift station, located adjacent to Sand Bar and Grille. Merritt hired a septic service to remove thousands of gallons of waste over the course of many weeks after the city disconnected multiple businesses from the sewer system.

Merritt further claimed that the City of Hiawassee did not consult with civil engineer, Don Baker, who designed the sewer system regarding the Roadrunner shutdown. FYN is currently awaiting a return call from Baker on the matter.

FYN spoke with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw last week on the issue, due to the fire department’s involvement and the fact that several county departments filter through Merritt’s disconnected lift station. Bradshaw stated that the City of Hiawassee is solely responsible for the sewage system, although the county is willing to assist in backflushing the city’s wastewater well as needed.

Continue to follow FYN for information on the City of Hiawassee’s sewer saga as developments occur.


Feature Image: Towns County Fire and Rescue assisting the city’s lift station on State Route 76.



Light Up Hiawassee ushers season of holiday cheer

Community, News
Towns County Historical Society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Light Up Hiawassee transformed the town’s square into a winter wonderland Saturday, Dec. 7,  setting the heart of town aglow with magical illuminations for the holiday season. Children of young and old gathered to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, taking part in various activities such as cookie decorating, rock painting, ornament making, and penning wish-lists for Santa’s approval.

Children delighted in creating custom cookie designs.

Towns County Public Library hosted a storytime session while CASA, who serves as court-appointed advocates for neglected and abused youth, lit LED luminaries along the square’s pathways in representation of the many children assisted in Towns County this year. Towns County’s American Red Cross, VFW Post 4807, and Hamilton Gardens offered a sampling of delectable treats on the city’s center grounds.

Light Up Hiawassee

A rock painting station showcased creative talents.

A flaming S’mores firepit, arranged to roast self-perfected marshmallows for the chocolate-graham cracker concoctions, proved popular with guests. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales served as the Master of Ceremonies, and the holiday lights made their annual debut promptly at dusk.

Hiawassee Mayor

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales (left) greets a Towns County American Red Cross volunteer.

Festive holiday music wafted through the chilly air as the crowd awaited the arrival of Santa Claus, escorted by the Hiawassee Police Department, and riding tall upon a Towns County Fire and Rescue ladder truck. Children followed Saint Nick to the Old Rock Jail which was decked in spirited 1936 decor by the Towns County Historical Society, depicting the era that the site was constructed. Scrumptious cookies, old fashion candy, hot chocolate, and sweet apple cider were served as a long line of Santa-seekers wrapped their way through the restored museum. Vintage ornaments and toys were strewn throughout the old jail’s living quarters, transporting guests to a holiday season long ago.

Hiawassee Santa

Old Saint Nick arrived in style upon a Towns County fire truck.

Robin Webb

FYN’s reporter poses with a friendly Grinch.


Hiawassee to purchase city’s oldest buildings

City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales recently shared what she enthusiastically deemed “the biggest news ever” with members of the city council and citizens.

“The City has just completed a close to purchase the two buildings between Anderson’s (Financial Service) and Victoria’s Attic. The two oldest buildings in the city. (City of Hiawassee attorney) Mr. Mitchell was here today and we finished all of the closing documents. Of course, that will be up for a vote on Tuesday,” Mayor Ordiales announced as a tentative deal at Hiawassee City Hall, Nov. 25.

The historic, vacant buildings are located on Main Street, east of Hiawassee Town Square, A component of Hiawassee’s five-year strategy includes revitalization of Hiawassee’s downtown district, and Mayor Ordiales promised that the dual structures will transition up to par.

Hiawassee Mayor - 2019

Mayor Liz Ordiales at the November work session.

The buildings’ appraisal was set at $135,000, the mayor stated, although $36,000 was “donated to the city” by Dan Paris, reducing the city’s cost to $99,000. Ordiales expressed gratitude toward Paris, a local businessman who is assisting in the restoration of downtown Hiawassee. “So that’s the price we will be approving on Tuesday,” the mayor told the council.

Mayor Ordiales additionally announced that Hiawassee’s strategic plan was selected for national recognition in March of 2020 at the Downtown Development Authority’s national convention in Washington D.C.

After many months of detailed research, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government revealed the five-year strategic plan for Hiawassee’s potential future on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, during a Town Hall meeting. The procedure of envisioned development was the result of numerous studies conducted between the institute and local leaders, business owners, and residents.

During the course of the study, community stakeholders listed what they felt was working well in Hiawassee, and what they believed could benefit from improvement. Positive aspects included the strong sense of community with a “small-town feel,” the city’s town square, and the location itself, brimming with natural amenities. Feedback into areas that could prosper from improvement consisted of advanced beautification efforts, occupation of vacant buildings and lots, improved traffic and transportation, and the promotion of business options.

The City of Hiawassee worked with the Carl Vinson Institute, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, which assists state and local governments in achieving their goals. Hiawassee received a $21,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2017 to assist in the funding of the study. Steering committees were formed for the endeavor, and interviews and focus groups were held to sculpt the formation of the project.

Click to view the City of Hiawassee’s strategic plan


Hiawassee develops plan to capitalize on natural, cultural assets

City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A team from the City of Hiawassee participated in a three-day workshop designed especially for towns and communities bordering national or state parks, forests, and other treasured public lands in the Appalachian Region. Working with national and regional experts on sustainable tourism, economic development, the arts, natural and cultural resources, transportation, and branding, the five-person team crafted a new vision that focuses on the unique Appalachian assets that make Towns County an appealing place to live, work and recreate.

The partnership of the Appalachian Regional Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Conservation Fund convened the program. With partnership and relationship-building as essential elements to the Appalachian Gateway Communities Regional Workshop, each of the eight participating communities – from across Appalachia – formed a diverse team that included a public land manager, elected officials, business and tourism representatives, civic leaders, and community arts representatives.

The team consists of the following members:

David Weber – Young Harris College
Annaka Woodruff – Appalachian Regional Commission
Patrick Larson – Ga Mountain Regional Commission
Julia Sparks – Brasstown Bald
Liz Ordiales – Hiawassee Mayor
Denise McKay – Economic Development Director

“This venture is a great collaboration with the major stakeholders in our area; Towns County, Young Harris College and both Cities, Hiawassee and Young Harris,” Katie Allen, Director of The Conservation Fund’s Conservation, said. Leadership Network We look forward to providing more activities for our residents as well as generate additional visitor events. The City of Hiawassee’s partnership was an ideal candidate for the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative because of the terrific natural and cultural resources and the emphasis of the arts in its community’s plans. It’s our goal to help communities foster valuable partnerships, reinforce development plans that balance environmental and economic goals and provide technical assistance to enable places like Towns County to become even more vibrant and thriving communities.”

The Appalachian Gateway Communities Regional Workshop is part of an initiative developed by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Since 2007, the Gateway Initiative has helped gateway communities across Appalachia expand tourism and other economic development opportunities through community assessments, tourism planning workshops and grants for project implementation.

The Conservation Fund has worked to strengthen the leadership capacity of towns, cities, and communities that neighbor publicly protected natural and recreational lands in distressed, transitional or at-risk counties.

The workshop was held at Steele Creek State Park in Bristol, TN in November 2019.

EPD launches investigation into Hiawassee’s sewer shutdown

Hiawassee sewer

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources – Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has launched an investigation into the City of Hiawassee’s controversial “Roadrunner” sewer station shutdown. FetchYourNews (FYN) broke the story on the repercussions of Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales’ decision to disconnect numerous Towns County businesses from wastewater disposal earlier this week.

Hiawassee sewer disconnected from businesses

Merritt’s lift station, located near Sand Bar and Grille on State Route 76.

Click to read: Hiawassee Disconnects Multiple Businesses from Sewer System

Georgia EPD Director of Communications Kevin Chambers confirmed this morning, Nov. 15, that the state department has opened an investigation into the matter. A field agent from the environmental division visited the city-owned Roadrunner site Nov. 14, along with the privately-owned lift station maintained by Ken and Dana Merritt, stakeholders connected to several impacted businesses in Towns County’s entertainment district.

Sodbusters, a Hayesville-based septic service hired by the Merritts to dispose of the quickly-accumulating waste, reported Nov. 15 that the sewage vault has required 70 pumpings – which amounts to approximately 91,000 gallons of total waste removal – at a rate of eight truckloads hauled for disposal per day since the ordeal began.

“(Disconnecting the Roadrunner lift station) addresses several issues that have been long-standing,” Mayor Ordiales said in part earlier this week. “The odor from that area has been an issue for over 13 years, the need for weekly maintenance to that lift station, the need to have utilities present, both water and electricity, the maintenance and repairs of two large pumps valued at over $15,000 each, and the maintenance of a large electric panel to operate that lift station.” Mayor Ordiales stated that the initial decision to shut down the facility was reached in December 2018.

Lift stations require a source of electric power, and the Merritts claim that discontinuation of the city sewage site is not only a threat to the environment but caused damage to their privately-owned lift pump. According to the EPA, when the power supply is interrupted, flow conveyance is discontinued and can result in flooding upstream of the lift station. It can also interrupt the normal operation of the downstream wastewater conveyance and facilities.

Hiawassee sewer system

Diagram of lift pump operations.

“The City was unaware of the (EPD) inspection but always welcomes input to make our system work more efficiently and effectively,” Mayor Ordiales told FYN on Nov. 15. “During their inspection, they did find that there was trash around the area that was not picked up in a timely manner. EPD contacted the City this morning, and The City addressed their concerns and reported back this afternoon.” Ordiales added that fines were not imposed as a result of yesterday’s inspection.

EPD stated that a timetable is not affixed to the pump station investigation. Merritt, who spoke with the field agent on Thursday, indicated to FYN that the EPD’s preliminary findings suggested that the private pump appears to be “in compliance” with state regulations.

Continue to follow FYN for updated information on Hiawassee’s sewage situation as developments occur.



Hiawassee disconnects multiple businesses from sewer system

Hiawassee sewer disconnected from businesses

HIAWASSEE, GA. – Numerous businesses and residences in Towns County are left without a previous means of wastewater disposal following an alleged “unilateral decision” by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to discontinue the use of a city sewer lift station known as “Roadrunner” on State  Highway 76. Wastewater lift stations are used for pumping wastewater or sewage from a lower to higher elevation, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity flow.

Ken and Dana Merritt – stakeholders concerned with the affected businesses and residences – contacted FetchYourNews (FYN) following reported attempts to remedy the foreboding situation through Mayor Ordiales, and subsequently, members of Hiawassee City Council whom purportedly suggested a lawsuit against the municipality.

“We have multiple business interests in the Ridges area of Towns County….” Ken Merritt began. “The mayor of Hiawassee has disconnected all of these entities from the sewer system and sewage has been seen overflowing from the lift station which has been in operation since early 2000. The sewer system was designed by the city’s engineer, approved by the city council, and has worked well since it was completed. The mayor decided arbitrarily without engineering council that she would shut down an adjacent lift station because of the electrical cost. Consequently, the lift station in front of Sand Bar was left to move the flow of sewage three-and-one-half miles to the sewer plant. It was never designed for that purpose and the sewage has backed up into the vault and overflowed onto the grounds. It makes no difference to the mayor that countless people and businesses that pay a monthly sewer bill are just a day or two away from having their toilets overflow.”

Merritt stated that he has hired a septic service to remove and dispose of the waste from the sewage vault at a rate of 3-to-4 times per day, following the City of Hiawassee’s cessation of the Roadrunner lift station. Merritt explained that failure to remove the waste would result in above ground seepage, forcing connected businesses to close their doors. Furthermore, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division (EPD), issued a warning that a civil penalty of up to $50,000 per day could be imposed due to the proximity of the Merritt’s waste system to Lake Chatuge.

“The City is constantly striving to run a more efficient and effective operation,” Mayor Ordiales responded. “In review of the current sewer system and with the impending expansion, the decision to by-pass the road runner lift station was made in December of 2018. This by-pass addresses several issues that have been long-standing; the odor from that area has been an issue for over 13 years, the need for weekly maintenance to that lift station, the need to have utilities present, both water and electricity, the maintenance and repairs of two large pumps valued at over $15,000 each, and the maintenance of a large electric panel to operate that lift station. The City consulted with City engineers and electricians prior to making the final decision to decommission the Roadrunner lift station.

“The lift station that is failing is not a City-owned and operated lift station,” Hiawassee’s mayor continued. “It is privately owned by Dana and Ken Merritt.  That lift station was installed over 17 years ago and it was accepted by (the) City for use by the businesses that were operable at that time.  Since then, there have been many new businesses added to that area that utilize that lift station.  The area has simply outgrown that lift station.  The City has been working with the Merritts since March of 2019 to correct the issues on that privately-owned lift station.  The city will not spend taxpayer money on privately-owned property.  The Merritts have been notified many months ago as to the replacement pumps needed to properly operate that lift station but have not been responsible in taking care of their property.  There have been several letters, meetings at City Hall, telephone communications to no avail.  It is very disappointing that they have put the businesses that are served by that lift station in peril of closing and more importantly putting our most valuable resource, Lake Chatuge, in danger.  The failing lift station serves only the area of the Sand Bar, Moondance complex, El Cancun, and Dogwood St area. The City has contacted EPD and they, in turn, have written a letter to the Merritts earlier this year informing them of the consequences of their irresponsibility.”

Mayor Ordiales stated that the solution to the problem includes the installation of proper pumps that would handle the volume of sewage flowing through it.

The Merritts expressed that they believe that a portion of a 2018 grant accepted by the City of Hiawassee should be used to remedy the situation.

Click to read City of Hiawassee receives $600,000 grant for wastewater improvement

Additionally, the Merritts stated that reverse pressure from the inoperative Roadrunner lift station has caused damage to the private sewer system, forcing repairs. In an Aug. 26 letter addressed to the EPD by the Merritt’s attorney, the couple’s legal counsel responded that the “unilateral decision of the City of Hiawassee to discontinue the use of and the bypass of the Roadrunner lift station” has harmed the Merritt’s system due to excessive reverse pressure on the system. “The City of Hiawassee has continuously charged a monthly sewer service bill to each property owner connected to and using the sanitary sewer extension,” the attorney added.

“If the system ceases to function properly there will be irreparable damage to the environment and businesses,” Dana Merritt said. “It will not only (destroy) several lift station pumps but also close businesses not limited to but including the jail, recreation center, Ridges Resort, Watercrest Condos, several restaurants, Cinema 6, and other private businesses.”

FYN intends to follow developments as they occur.

Feature Image: Sewer station in question, located near Sand Bar and Grille on State Highway 76, west of Hiawassee.

Hiawassee designated an Appalachian Gateway Community

Appalachian Gateway

Sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the 3-day workshop provides participants with skills to capitalize on opportunities related to sustainable drivers for local economic development, cultural heritage, natural resource tourism, public arts promotion, and preservation with stewardship of community character. In addition to enhancing a community’s natural and historic assets, the role of the arts–particularly in revitalizing downtowns–is explored by community teams to assist in developing strategies to safeguard community character and drive local economic development.

Hiawassee mayor Liz Ordiales

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

“For decades, local industry has relied on extracting Appalachia’s rich natural resources such as coal, timber, and gas,” the organization states. “Although these industries have historically provided a local job base, poverty has been a pervasive challenge in many Appalachian communities. In recent years the Appalachian region’s economy has become more diversified; yet, even with infusions of new types of industry, the region still does not reflect the economic status of the rest of the nation.

“With programming that has included targeted technical assistance, community tourism assessments, tourism planning workshops, and small grants for project implementation, the AGCI (Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative) focuses on communities that are entry points to some of Appalachia’s most important natural assets: national and state parks and forests. In addition to enhancing a community’s natural assets, the AGCI also emphasizes the role of the arts –particularly in revitalizing downtowns – in a comprehensive natural and cultural heritage tourism development strategy.”

Since 2007, The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network, with ample support from the ARC and NEA, has led the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative to expand tourism, the arts, and other economic development opportunities for Appalachia’s gateway communities.

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