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.
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, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee is on track to renew its emergency medical flight coverage with AirMed at the 2018 rate of $4,900. The item is listed as “new business” on the council’s Oct. 28 agenda.
Towns County citizens are automatically enrolled in coverage, at no charge, through AirMethods – also known as Air Life – an air ambulance service that transports urgent care patients to trauma centers. Residents within the city limits of Hiawassee are dually covered through an additional air flight insurance program with AirMed.
The secondary flight insurance granted to Hiawassee citizens, thanks to the past initiative of Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, is available for a fee to county residents seeking increased peace of mind. In the event that AirMethods is engaged in service, or grounded due to maintenance, AirMed is dispatched to one of the four landing zones within the county’s perimeter. The cost to those lacking insurance can reach in excess of $30,000 for a single life-saving transport. Additionally, if multiple accident victims are simultaneously in need of advanced medical care, the helicopters are limited to one patient per flight.
The air ambulance is staffed with a pilot, a flight paramedic, and a flight nurse, with the level of service provided equating to that of a portable emergency room. Furthermore, insurance members who have ventured outside the confines of the area are likewise covered if airlifted by an ambulance flight provider.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – An “Issuing Authority Ordinance” was listed as new business on the Sept. 23 agenda of Hiawassee City Council. The purpose of teh decree is to enact “sound conservation and engineering practices to prevent and minimize erosion and resultant sedimentation” within the city limits. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales described the mandate as a standard environmental Protection Division (EPD) ordinance, typically updated every five years.
“EPD mandates that whenever you have any type of construction, somebody comes out and checks it, and makes sure you’re not doing anything to harm the environment,” Mayor Ordiales explained, using “run-off” into Lake Chatuge as an example. “In the past we haven’t had anybody do it, so we had to sort of wait, and when somebody called and said, ‘Hey, there’s about 300 pounds of soot going into the lake, you might want to address it’ then we have to call EPD, and EPD would come out and do it. They have this ordinance in place, and we have our building inspector, Randy Day, that does this for us. He’s certified, he’s licensed, he’s insured, he’s ready to go. But since we’ve never had this, we have to put this ordinance in place for him to do it.”
Portions of the extensive ordinance read as follows:
“No person shall conduct any land-disturbing activity within the jurisdictional boundaries of the City of Hiawassee
without first obtaining a permit from the City of Hiawassee Issuing Authority to perform such activity and providing a copy of Notice of Intent submitted to EPD, if applicable. The application for a permit shall be submitted to the City of Hiawassee and must include the applicant’s erosion, sedimentation and pollution control plan with supporting data, as necessary.”
“If any person commences any land-disturbing activity requiring a land-disturbing permit as prescribed in this ordinance without first obtaining said permit, the person shall be subject to revocation of his business license, work permit or other authorization for the conduct of a business and associated work.”
“When a violation in the form of taking action without a permit, failure to maintain a stream buffer, or significant
amounts of sediment, as determined by the Local Issuing Authority or by the Director or his or her Designee, have been or are being discharged into state waters and where best management practices have not been properly designed, installed, and maintained, a stop work order shall be issued by the Local Issuing Authority or by the Director or his or her Designee. All such stop work orders shall be effective immediately upon issuance and shall be in effect until the necessary corrective action or mitigation has occurred.”
“Any person who violates any provisions of this ordinance, or any permit condition or limitation established pursuant to this ordinance, or who negligently or intentionally fails or refuses to comply with any final or emergency order of the Director issued as provided in this ordinance shall be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500.00 per day.”
Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett questioned whether violation fines incurred would revert to the City of Hiawassee. Mayor Ordiales replied that it would be the case. The ordinance is expected to reach Hiawassee City Council for adoption Nov. 5, 2019.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – It has been nearly eighteen years since the infamous day that will eternally live in American minds – Sept. 11, 2001. Towns County, along with the City of Hiawassee, plans to honor the terrorist attack victims on Patriot Day. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, and Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland met Aug. 29 to finalize the details of a Wednesday, Sept. 11 public memorial. Hiawassee Town Square will be the site of the gathering, beginning at 9:45 a.m.
Mayor Ordiales will serve as the master of ceremonies, with Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby welcoming guests. Presentation of the Colors will be issued by North Georgia National Guard. Pastors Danny Byers, Wade Lott, and Donnie Jarrard will offer prayers and words of remembrance in honor of the lives lost. Chief Copeland is scheduled to speak on the meaning of 9/11, prior to ringing a bell to symbolize the fallen. Summer Rahn will sing the National Anthem. The program will end with “God Bless America.”
Commissioner Bradshaw said that the idea to hold the memorial ceremony was presented by part-time Towns County resident Bob Fair. “I wish it was something that we had thought to do sooner,” Bradshaw said. Bradshaw added plans to make the service an annual event.
A total of 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks, including the 19 terrorist hijackers aboard the four airplanes. Citizens of 78 countries died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. At the World Trade Center, 2,763 died after the two planes slammed into the twin towers. That figure includes 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors.
At the Pentagon, 189 people were killed, including 64 on American Airlines Flight 77, the airliner that struck the building. On Flight 93, 44 people died when the plane crash-landed in Pennsylvania.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced Aug. 26 that sewer expansion is in the process of advancement.
“The sewer plant expansion has finally begun. It’s only taken eight months, but look at us,” Mayor Ordiales said while displaying photographs of a construction site. “They’re tearing down trees, putting in walkways, but then of course there’s the inevitable surprise, the little spaghetti pipes we have going on. Nobody knew that pipe was there. It’s only one of the main ones. The lake is right here. It’s only one of the main ones that comes from one of these manhole and goes straight into the sewer plant. Oops. So we had to adjust a little and make changes, but the good thing is they’ve started and things are moving along nicely.”
Last year, the City of Hiawassee received an Appalachian Regional Commission Grant in the amount of $600,000 from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which administers the program on behalf of the Appalachian Regional Commission, for waste water expansion. SOL Construction, an Atlanta-based concrete contractor, was selected by bid to head the project.
The mayor added that a lightning strike from a recent storm caused damage to the sewer plant. “It blew up the sewer plant bad. We had fried panels. We had all kinds of fuses that were out. It was a mess. So we had to start replacing things, and of course, our wonderful staff got on it and we didn’t miss a beat, but it was scary.”
FYN will continue to provide updates on the sewer expansion project.
Featured Image provided by City of Hiawassee.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A proposal to pursue a maximum of two term limits, amounting to eight years, for elected council members was raised Monday, Aug. 26, by Councilwoman Anne Mitchell at Hiawassee City Hall. The agenda item was quickly rejected by Councilwoman Amy Barrett, preventing the measure from advancing to state legislature.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained during the work session that in order for the proposal to proceed, the council must be in unanimous agreement on the issue. The matter was broached in previous years, Ordiales reminded, with term limits solely rejected by returning-former Councilman Jay Chastain Jr.
“I like term limits,” Mitchell said. “I really do. It’s kind of like draining the lake every year or flushing your toilet. You get something new, and people don’t get stale, and they do get stale in this job. We know that from the last 20 years.”
Barrett objected to Mitchell’s position, “Just because there’s change doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. I think the people should have a choice…I understand there have been bad experiences, but we as a public who vote, we as the voters are responsible for electing these people, and we could have voted them out. They did have people run against them. It is what it is.” Barrett countered, later including, “If you don’t like the job we’re doing, people can stand up and run against us or vote us out. Or if they like the job we’re doing, hey, vote us in.”
Mitchell interjected during the forum that voter apathy is a problem in the area, and that increased voter activity, along with a greater amount of council candidates, is needed.
Councilwoman Nancy Noblet entered the discussion. “The big question is why. Why will the people not run for office? If you want to see your city do good things, if you want to see the county do good things, why do you not run? There were three seats up,” Noblet asked, later adding, “We’ve got a lot people that have a lot of opinions, ‘Well, I would do this or I would do that or I would do this,’ but guess what, when it comes time to step your foot down, to do it or not to do it, where are they at?” Noblet ended by stating that her stance on eight year term limits was “up in the air.”
Councilwoman Patsy Owens briefly weighed in, favoring term limits, stating that long-term incumbents discourage candidates from entering the race, based on a presumption that the effort is a losing battle. Councilman Kris Berrong remained silent on the issue.
Citizens in attendance voiced a desire to see a younger generation become involved in city politics.
“The term limit situation, unless it is unanimous it won’t pass, so let’s drop that, and we can certainly talk about it again in a couple of months if you guys want, and when the new council member is in, we can discuss it again,” Mayor Ordiales concluded. “(Jay Chastain Jr.) was the only one who did not vote last time for it so I doubt seriously that he will vote this time for it.”
Chastain automatically secured Councilman Berrong’s seat last Friday, Aug. 23, due to uncontested candidate qualification for Post 3. Chastain will return to city office January 2020.
Feature Image: Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Members of five Towns County veteran organizations recently rallied behind supporting local
law enforcement. Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith was approached by a member of the VFW who expressed a desire to help the city police department.
“We have been in need of an additional Taser, but have had to put funds toward other projects,” Chief Smith explained. “For the past two years, we have been sharing Tasers between officers, which leaves some of us without the option of an effective midrange less-lethal weapon.”
Tasers are a brand of conducted electrical weapon that uses an electric current to disrupt voluntary control of muscles, causing temporary neuromuscular incapacitation. The use of conducted electrical weapons by law enforcement agencies has resulted in fewer injuries for both the officers and suspects. “Without the option of a Taser, an officer may be required to use hands-on physical force or an impact weapon like an expandable baton,” Chief Smith said. “These force-options can result in serious injuries to the suspect and officer. We are incredibly
grateful for the support and the donation made by our veteran organizations.”
“We feel a Taser is more effective and safer in apprehending a criminal,” said Mel Halfon, VFW Post 7807 Commander. “We expect a safe community where we can go about our daily activities in an environment without fear, risk of harm, or injury. Our veterans’ family is happy to support the Hiawassee Police Department and provide funding to purchase a Taser.”
Donations for the Taser were made by VFW Post 7807, VFW Auxiliary, The American Legion Post 23, The American Legion Auxiliary, and Sons of the American Legion.
“Our veterans are such an integral part of our community,” Mayor Liz Ordiales said. “We thank them for their service then, now, and always.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga.- A large crowd of history lovers assembled at the Towns County Historical Society’s monthly meeting Aug. 12 to waltz down memory lane with local historians Mary Ann Miller and Jerry Taylor. Miller and Taylor displayed slideshow photographs of Hiawassee, past and present, describing the architectural changes that have taken place over the years. Miller shared memories of Hiawassee in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by Taylor presenting the original plans for the mountain settlement. Settled in 1820, Hiawassee became the designated seat of newly formed Towns County in 1856. Hiawassee was incorporated as a town in 1870, and as a city in 1916.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales addressed the crowd at the conclusion of the meeting, speaking on the future plans for the city. In 2018, 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 with the funding of the strategic plan.
Steering committees were formed for the project, and seven focus groups were held to sculpt the formation of the plan. 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. “We tried to get everyone involved as much as possible…,” Mayor Ordiales said at the meeting, assuring society members of historical preservation. “We’re tearing nothing down.”
Towns County Historical Society meets on the second Monday of each month at 6 pm at the Towns County Civic Center while the society’s main site, located at the former recreation center, undergoes renovation. Meetings are open to the public.
Feature Image: Hiawassee’s original Masonic Lodge, one of many historical photographs displayed at the meeting.