Monthly Archives: September 2020

The Gleam III — The Avett Brothers

Listen To This

In the age of reset and refresh, The Avett Brothers exude serious retrospective and philosophical vibes on their latest installment of their Gleam EP series, The Gleam III

A series that began in 2006, The Gleam projects are intimate sound nuggets that are void of the full-bodied arrangements and support of the entire band ensemble with a comforting glow of back-to-basics charm as a trio.

The Avett Brothers plus one, bassist Bob Crawford, deliver an acoustic spiritual journey of heartbreaking valleys wrapped in resounding peaks of hope with a core emphasis on accountability and raw kinship that spotlights the brother’s underrated yet colossal lyrical style and prowess.

Similar to a novel of short stories, each of the eight tracks have varying degrees of grit and charm that do not rely on thematic or long-play flow but connect with soul and intentionality that rallies the diehards and recruit newcomers into an unincorporated Avett county of fellowship and legacy —  a place where everyone experiences the beauty of life lessons that birth tradition and feed generations with passionate hope and the belief in camaraderie and connection.

– Chris Rucker

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Literary Loop

The #1 New York Times bestselling author, Fredrik Backman of A Man Called Ove fame, is at it again with another cast of unforgettable characters in Anxious People. This poignant, charming novel probes a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage.

The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers, a wealthy but self-absorbed bank director and a young couple who are about to have their first child.

Add to the mix an 87-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent and a mystery man who has locked himself in the only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

As the authorities and the media arrive, these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

“[A] witty, lighthearted romp…Backman charms,” says Publishers Weekly.

“Comedy, drama, mystery and social study, this novel is undefinable except for the sheer reading pleasure it delivers,” says Library Journal.

Model Citizens

People

A 3D model of Evans Towne Center created by Columbia County’s Geographic Information Systems team has been selected as the recipient of the GMIS International award for outstanding service and dedication to the citizens of Columbia County.

The project was submitted to GMIS International after winning the Georgia GMIS Government to Citizen Award earlier this summer.

Team members (pictured) include (left to right, front row): Larry Hobbs, Ernie Phelps, Lindsey Stokes and Julianne Hartman and (back row) Samuel Ball, Grace Jansen and Mark Swain.

Although the department team had no experience in 3D modeling, it was asked by the county administrator to create the model to showcase the county’s new Performing Arts Center, Meybohm Building, future parking deck and other future retail/professional developments.

The team had only two weeks to put the project together to present to the Board of Commissioners and county administration.

Spider Web Popcorn

Appetizers and Snacks
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 8 cups mini marshmallows, divided
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 9 cups popped popcorn, divided
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • Black string licorice
  • Candy eyes

Line round pizza pan with parchment paper; set aside. Melt butter in large saucepan set over low heat; stir in 5 cups marshmallows, stirring constantly 3 to 4 minutes or until completely melted. Stir in vanilla. Remove from heat and immediately stir in 8 cups popped popcorn until coated. Spread onto pizza pan about 1-inch thick to resemble spider web. Refrigerate 15 minutes or until firm.

Meanwhile, melt remaining marshmallows in microwave about 20 seconds or until melted. Using spatula, string strands of melted marshmallow over popcorn spider web to create cobweb effect.

In heatproof bowl set over saucepan of hot, not boiling, water, melt 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips; let cool slightly. Pour chocolate over remaining popcorn in large bowl, folding gently to coat. Spread mixture on waxed paper–lined baking sheet, separating into 8 small clusters. Affix 2 candy eyes on each popcorn cluster. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes or until set.

Melt remaining chocolate chips. Cut licorice into 1-inch lengths. Use small spoon, dab circles of chocolate onto spider web. Affix chocolate-coated popcorn onto chocolate circles. Affix licorice lengths to chocolate popcorn clusters to resemble spider legs. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until set. To serve, cut into smaller pieces. Makes 1 web.

Courtesy of the Popcorn Board

That’s the Spirit

In The Home

An Evans resident loves to celebrate Halloween with her “kindred souls.”

Make no bones about it. Some people believe their skeletons belong in a closet. Not Lynn Pawlak of Evans, though. She proudly displays her skeletons – and ghosts and mummies – out in the open at her Barrett Place home every Halloween. After all, it’s no secret that she loves the holiday.

“This is a fun time. I celebrate Halloween. I don’t have anything gory, so it doesn’t upset anybody,” says Lynn, who moved to her home four years ago. “I decorate for every holiday, but not to this extent for the others.”

Cast of Characters
With a couple of ghouls poking up through the ground among a trio of tombstones in a flowerbed, her front yard tells the tale of her love story with Halloween – and offers a preview of what’s inside.

On the front porch, a bride and groom skeleton sit side-by-side on a bench. The groom is outfitted in a black hat and a red bowtie, while the bride is fetching in her long white gown that’s accented with a black sash and a subtle splash or two of blood. Their hands rest on an orange pumpkin between them that says, “I’m Here for the Boos.”

Lynn has had the groom for about 10 years, and she found his bride four years ago. When he was still a single skeleton, she would seat him at a table for parties. “People couldn’t help but rearrange him,” she says.

The wicked witch from Snow White, clad in black and clutching an apple in her bony fingers, also sits on the front porch next to a cauldron full of bones. A big black spider clings to a white column by its giant black web.

A decorative Halloween flag flies from the front porch, and lighted Halloween picks add a spark to a pair of planters. A wreath with a pointy purple witch’s hat and dangly witch’s legs hangs on the front door.

The witch and skeletons have more life-sized companions inside the house. A mummy – yes, its name is Mummy – welcomes visitors from the hallway to Lynn’s Halloween haven. Mummy is holding a black long-stemmed rose and sporting a black pointed witch’s hat that curls into a point.

“I added all the little touches to the mummy,” Lynn says. “I made it into a witch because it was unisex. I said, ‘Let me fix you up.’”

A black tree, wrapped with a shimmery black and orange tree skirt at the base and topped with a Halloween bow, is filled with Christopher Radko and Brighton Halloween ornaments. “Now that I have this tree, I started getting myself some nice ornaments,” says Lynn.

Mummy is well positioned to keep a bandaged eye on Harry, a talking mechanical ghost that plays music and pulls his head off of his shoulders. “He reminds me of Beetlejuice,” Lynn says of Harry. “He was one of the first mechanical things I got.”

Of course, Harry isn’t trying to frighten anyone when he lifts up his head – it’s a practical matter. “I need to get a better view of the situation,” he explains in one of his many comments.

A lamp, where black spiders dangle from a spider web-covered shade, sits on a table in the foyer. The lamp is joined by a spidery candle on a mummy candlestick, a pumpkin, a skeleton head, a small Halloween tree and a table runner with silver spider webs.

Halloween Treats
Lynn’s appetite for Halloween extends into her kitchen. As fate would have it, she won a Halloween cookie jar at her first Bunko party, and it sits on one of the granite countertops.

Halloween bowls, wine glasses and a pair of witch’s shoe-shaped wine bottle holders sit atop the counters as well. A witch tassel dangles from one cabinet knob and a skeleton tassel hangs from another.

A candy corn dish towel hangs from one cabinet door, and a duo of Halloween dish towels are draped over the oven door handle.

If any question remains about Lynn’s affection for Halloween, a peek inside her cabinets will clear up any doubts. She has shelves full of Halloween wine glasses and plates, and a drawer is full of Halloween spreaders.

“I am a huge collector of Halloween dishes,” she says. “Each one has a different saying on the front and back.”

The riddles on the plates add to the fun. What do witches put on their hair? Scare spray. When is it bad luck to meet a black cat? When you’re a mouse. What do you call a fat jack-o’-lantern? A plumpkin.

In the adjoining dining area, another talking mannequin, Pumpkin Man, guards the space from a corner. Not that there is anything discreet about his presence, though. His is dapperly attired in pin-striped pants, a black jacket with purple lapels and a top hat, and one of his orange hands rests on a cane with a skull for a handle. His face also lights up when he says silly things.

Pumpkin Man is joined by a ghost with long black hair – one of the newest members of Lynn’s Halloween entourage. “I got her last year at the end of the season,” she says.

A black tablecloth with a glittery spider web pattern covers the round table, and two candelabras holding Halloween candles sit on top of the table on either side of a Halloween bowl. A black feather boa with shimmers of emerald green is draped on the chandelier. Someone at an Elton John concert gave the boa to Lynn after she admired it.

Savvy Shopping
With spooky red eyes, another ghost named Annabella watches over the great room from a corner. “People have asked me if it bothers me to walk through the house at night with all of the mannequins everywhere. It doesn’t bother me at all,” says Lynn.

Well, there is one exception. “When I lived in Jones Creek, Annabella was on the landing, but I had to put her in a bedroom,” Lynn says.

Evidently, her prominent positioning was too creepy at night even for Lynn. In her new home, however, Annabella’s post is a bit more palatable.

The hardwood flooring in the house extends into the great room, which also features a cathedral ceiling, two Thomas Kinkade paintings and a collection of signed Hummel figurines. A freestanding bookshelf, full of Halloween knick-knacks, sits on either side of the fireplace with a brick surround. In the center of the wood mantel, a pair of hands with black fingernails reaches upward, and the head of a snake-haired Medusa occupies one end. Don’t stare at her for too long, though, or you’ll turn to stone.

A witch sits in front of the fireplace next to a basket full of eyeballs, and the round coffee table is covered with a spider web tablecloth. A small gold tree on the table holds more Christopher Radko ornaments.

Black cats and jack-o’-lanterns peer into the room from a Halloween throw blanket, which is draped on the back of the sectional couch, and pillows featuring a raven and a pumpkin are tucked on each end.

Ceramic Halloween village pieces, which Lynn has had for decades, line a skinny table behind a section of the couch.

“Ninety percent of my Halloween decorations, I have collected through the years. Most of them were on sale,” says Lynn. “A lot of the things I got when I was younger. Once a year I would buy a major item.”

In the back hallway, the face of a friendly scarecrow smiles at passersby from the powder room door. “I got him in Germany at an American craft fair,” says Lynn.

The powder room features a pedestal sink, and the Halloween décor includes mats, hand towels and pumpkin hand soap.

Sharing the Fun
Lynn bought many of her smaller Halloween decorations when she went shopping with a like-minded friend she has known more than 30 years. Their shopping sprees continued even after they lived in different places. “We would send Halloween baskets to each other,” Lynn says.

Because of the Army careers of her father and her former husband, Lynn has lived all across the globe and shared her love of Halloween with her many international friends wherever she went.

“You get to dress up. When I lived in other countries, I got to introduce Halloween to the people there. I trick-or-treated until I was 14,” says Lynn. “To me, Halloween has always been about fun. Everybody can participate.”

She also likes to entertain, and naturally, her Bunko group and book club meet at her house for their October gatherings. Lynn has extended that same generous spirit to her young neighbors since she moved to Barrett Place.

“I open my door on Halloween and let the kids see what the mannequins can do. But I always ask them first if they want to see it,” she says. “They know this house is entertaining. I enjoy seeing the children, and I have such great memories of Halloween all over the world.”

As for any plans to shop for bargains after Halloween this year, however, Lynn emphatically says, “No. I’m done.”

Except perhaps for another Brighton ornament or two for her tree. . ..

By Betsy Gilliland

 

Setting Up House

What's New 2020

Rooftops continue to pop up in new and existing developments in the county.

Columbia County is a desirable place to live, but proper planning is vital for it to remain that way. To keep up with growth and development, county officials are in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, Vision 2035. Adopted in 2016, the growth and development guide is slated for revision every five years.

County officials have received plenty of feedback about the plan from residents, and another public hearing about Vision 2035 revisions was scheduled for mid-September. The draft document was supposed to be finished by February 28, but because of covid-19, the state Department of Community Affairs gave the county an extension until June 30.

In the meantime, though, construction has continued, in accordance with the plan, throughout the county. From August 1, 2019 through August 15, 2020, Columbia County issued 867 residential building permits and 101 commercial building permits. From August 1, 2018 through August 15, 2019, the county issued 789 residential building permits and 128 commercial building permits.

“Our residential numbers are slightly ahead of the 2019 numbers,” says Scott Sterling, the county Planning Services director. “Commercial development in 2020 is lagging a little bit behind, and that is directly related to covid. Businesses that thought they would open have decided to wait and see what happens. There’s no slowdown in interest or demand.”

While growth is occurring “everywhere” in the county, Sterling says it appears to be concentrated in Grovetown, on both sides of Appling Harlem Road and in the Riverwood Plantation, Lewiston Road and William Few Parkway areas.

“A number of new subdivisions or phases of existing subdivisions are under construction or development,” says Sterling.

For instance, construction in the first section of Greenpoint, a 1,200-acre mixed-use development off of Appling Harlem Road, is underway. Sterling says the county also has given the go-ahead for the development of additional residential and commercial properties in Greenpoint this year.

Site work for the first phase of Jackson Heights off of Old Belair Lane in Grovetown, has begun.

Contractors are building the last phase of Canterbury Farms, which will include about 150 more homes.

Additional phases also are being built in other Columbia County neighborhoods such as Baker Place off of Baker Place Road in Grovetown.

In Evans, construction continues as well in neighborhoods including Whispering Pines and Eagle Creek off of William Few Parkway, Crawford Creek off of Hereford Farm Road, and Bell Tower and River Oaks off of Hardy McManus Road. Construction also has begun on apartments and townhouses, as well as some single-family dwellings, in a new phase of River Island.

From August 1, 2019 to August 15, 2020, Grovetown issued 198 permits for new single-family residential homes and 81 permits for new multi-family townhouses and apartments. The city did not issue any permits for new commercial construction during that time frame. From August 2018 through August 2019, Grovetown issued 345 residential building permits and 11 commercial building permits.

The final phase of Pepper Hill Estates, located off of East Robinson Avenue, was completed recently. In addition, several houses that fall within the city limits in McCoy’s Creek are under construction. The second phase of Deer Hollow off of Wrightsboro Road is in the early stages of development. Section 5 of Grove Landing, off of Harlem-Grovetown Road, is in the final phase of construction.

Other new neighborhoods in Grovetown include Euchee Lake and Caroleton, both off of Harlem-Grovetown Road; Shepherds Square off of the Barbara Street area; and Robin Landing Townhomes and Brighton Landing, both off of Horizon South Parkway.

New multi-family residential areas include Joiner Crossing, Highland Hills Apartments and Brighton Woods Townhomes. The largest multi-family community currently under construction is a complex called The Station at Brighton, which includes townhome and apartment living in buildings featuring a variety of apartments under one roof. Some buildings have six units, while others have 12 or 24 units. One or two buildings house 40 units each.

From August 1, 2019 through August 15, 2020, Harlem issued 125 permits for new residential construction. The city also had a commercial renovation for the Cyber Center in conjunction with Fort Gordon. From August 15, 2018 through August 15, 2019, Harlem issued 55 residential building permits and two commercial building permits.

Harlem will mark its 150th anniversary on October 24, but all of the events for the sesquicentennial celebration had to be canceled because of covid-19. However, the virus has not slowed down construction.

“I don’t know that anything affects construction in Columbia County,” says Brett Cook, Harlem’s city manager.

The city has rezoned a small tract of land on Bowdre Street for a development of townhomes. “It will be within walking distance of downtown,” Cook says.

Ground has been broken for another townhome community, Amesbury Station, off of Appling Harlem Road. Cook expects the groundbreaking for Hickory Woods, a neighborhood of 120 single-family homes on a 70-acre tract off of Sawdust Road, to occur in the next couple of months. In addition, he says, a few lots still are available in Cornerstone Creek.

Cook expects Harlem to continue to draw residents who prefer a more laidback lifestyle. “To us, Columbia County is urban, and Harlem is rural,” he says. “A lot of people want to be in Columbia County, and they can still avoid traffic in Harlem.”

To accommodate the growing city, Cook also says expansion of Harlem’s wastewater treatment plant, which will increase capacity by about 300 percent, could begin in 2021.

 

 

Open for Business

What's New 2020

As the rooftops keep coming to Columbia County, the single largest industrial project in the county’s history – the construction of an Amazon distribution center – is being built in White Oak Business Park off of Appling Harlem Road. The five-level center is expected to provide 800 jobs, and employees will work alongside robotic machines to pack and sort products that will be sent to customers throughout the Southeast.

Scott Sterling, the county Planning Services director, says the construction project, which has been underway about three months, should take about 18 months to complete.

“Amazon’s contribution in property taxes alone will be significant,” he says.

While some new businesses – even if they aren’t the size of Amazon – have come to the county, others are on the move. In downtown Harlem, First State Bank opened an office between the public safety building and Harlem Pharmacy on Milledgeville Road in June.

Evans continues to attract more businesses as well. For instance, BankSouth Mortgage relocated its Augusta mortgage office from Davis Road to the Meybohm office building in The Plaza at Evans Towne Center in the spring.

The Legacy on North Belair Road is seeking tenants. This building offers restaurant space, office space of 2,500 to 14,000 square feet and retail space of 1,500 to 6,800 square feet.

Out parcels at Mullins Colony are filling up, and Recteq Grills opened a 200,000-square-foot facility on Evans to Locks Road in February. The Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Beazley Realtors building, also on Evans to Locks, is nearing completion. In Focus Church has completed its expansion as well.

In February the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce opened a satellite office – the Grovetown-Harlem Columbia County Chamber of Commerce – on West Robinson Avenue in Grovetown in the SRP building, where the Federal Credit Union opened a branch in the past year.

New businesses such as Classic Collision, which opened in the past year, continue to come to the Gateway area. A spec building is under construction on Lewiston Road as well.

In Martinez, Signature Shops on Furys Ferry, a new 10,000-square-foot, five-bay shopping center, is under construction. Occupying 5,000 square feet of the building, Signature Interiors & Gifts will offer full interior design services for commercial and residential properties as well as interior and exterior finishes for new home construction and remodeling projects. The location will feature a large design studio library as well. A new ladies’ shoe store, Signature Soles, also will open in the shopping center.

Adaptive Driving Solutions, which specializes in modifying homes and vehicles to accommodate mobility-impaired individuals, opened on River Watch Parkway in Martinez earlier this year.

The former Acura of Augusta on Gordon Highway is now Jim Hudson Acura and located in the old Jim Hudson Lexus site on Washington Road in Martinez.

The county also is in the process of developing a plan to designate a portion of Martinez along Washington Road as a tax allocation district, or TAD. A TAD is an economic development tool that promotes commercial development and redevelopment in certain areas. The economic development in turn should stimulate increased growth in tax revenues.

“That should be done before the end of the year,” says Sterling.

Residents always are happy to see new restaurants open up – even if they primarily are enjoying takeout food for now. Because protocols for dining out have changed in light of the coronavirus, local restaurateurs have had to rethink the way they offer their services to accommodate restaurant capacity restrictions.

Stay. Social Tap & Table, a self-serve taproom and tapas bar, opened on the street level of The Plaza building across from Evans Town Center Park in August. With indoor and patio seating, the taproom features 41 beer taps and a kiosk where customers can order tapas food served charcuterie-style on handmade boards. The restaurant also offers desserts and grab-and-go breakfast items.

Alumni Cookie Dough, which offers cookie dough, ice cream and milkshakes, opened this winter in the lower level of Evans Town Park off of North Belair Road.

In a sign of the times, Laziza Mediterranean Grill in Evans Towne Centre shopping center has expanded its dining area with a new outdoor patio. Chicken Fingers on Evans to Locks Road also has expanded its dining area.

New restaurants in Grovetown include Longhorn Steakhouse and Panera Bread in the Gateway area.

Those who have a hunger for knowledge are in luck as well. The new Grovetown Library opened in June, initially offering curbside service. In July the library opened with limited hours, but it has been operating six days a week since August.

School Days

What's New 2020

More homes, plus more jobs, equals a need for more schools to accommodate a growing student population.

The Columbia County school district did not open a new school in 2020-21, but thanks to covid-19, the system nevertheless has a decidedly different look so far this year. Schools opened this fall on a staggered schedule for in-person learning for students because of the coronavirus pandemic. Families also had the option to choose a learn-from-home model.

Out of a student enrollment of 28,170 at the beginning of this academic year, 21,177 returned to classrooms for in-school instruction in August. The remaining 6,993 started the school year by learning from home.

However, the pandemic has not altered construction plans. The school system recently finished renovating a wing at the former Grovetown Elementary School, where the alternative school will be housed. Currently, all of the alternative school students are part of the LFH model. However, Dr. Sandra Carraway, superintendent of schools, says, “When and if it needs to open, it’s ready.”

The alternative school previously operated out of the old Evans Elementary School building on Gibbs Road, but this site has been cleared for construction of the new Learning Innovation Campus. The facility will offer specialized classes to students at all five county high schools in a central location.

Construction should get underway for the Learning Innovation Campus no later than December, Carraway says, with the goal of opening in August 2022.

The school district also has plans to construct additions at Columbia, Harlem and Greenbrier middle schools, which should be ready for use in 2021-22.

“These are high-growth areas, where Greenpoint subdivision is being built and a large development similar to the Greenbrier area is in the works,” says Carraway. “We know that those areas will continue to grow, and by adding on to those three buildings, we could almost have the same outcome as if we built a new middle school – and at a greatly reduced price.”

In addition, the school district has identified a piece of property for the construction of a new elementary school, which would open in 2023.

Bids also have gone out for site work at the former Greenfield Industries building on River Watch Parkway. The school district purchased the vacant building last year for $4 million from its general fund to expand administrative space. The building will house the Facilities and Maintenance Operations, Transportation and Technology departments, a warehouse and space for employee training. The school district has budgeted $20 million to renovate the facility.

A new roof will be put on the administrative part of the building where the technology department and meeting space will be located. In addition, more parking will be added to accommodate personnel when they come to the facility for professional development services.

A wing of the building, which includes about 10 bays, will be renovated for the transportation department. This wing also will include a fueling station and a drive-through bus wash.

“All of those projects are being done in phases,” says Carraway.

The school district also received $1.8 million from the CARES Act, which provided economic assistance for the effects of covid-19. With that funding, the school district has spent about $500,000 on sanitation products and equipment, face masks and the installation of ionization modules, which are installed in HVAC systems to improve air quality and to prevent the spread of illness, in its 32 school buildings and its 300 buses. Of that funding, $1.1 million was spent on the nutrition department as well.

The school district also hired 130 teachers this year. “These are new hires, not new positions,” Carraway says.

Augusta Christian Schools in Martinez has started a construction project to build a new two-story building on its campus on Baston Road. This project will be the first phase of Augusta Christian’s long-range plan to address the aging facilities of the 62-year-old school.

“We have to replace our portables. We have to enhance security, and we have to make room for growth,” says Les Walden, head of school, in a video on the school website.

The building’s first story will include an elementary school office; a head of school and assistant office; an office suite for guidance, admissions, activities and middle school administration; an elementary school classroom and a new library. The second floor will contain middle school classrooms and a new science lab.

The building, which will have a central entrance off of Baston Road, will be located in front of the gym between the elementary and middle school buildings.

When the existing classrooms, offices and the library move into the new building, they will be repurposed into new classrooms. This move will enable the school to move classes out of the portables and group all of the high school departments together.

The project is scheduled for completion in time for the 2021-22 academic year. In addition, once the portables are eliminated, the school will have space to build next to the gym to meet other needs.

Another private school, Savannah River Academy, opened the 2020-21 academic year at its newly purchased campus on South Old Belair Road in Grovetown. The non-sectarian, fully accredited school offers fulltime enrollment and a hybrid option for homeschoolers who are looking for core class enrollment only. Previously, the school, which opened in 2018, operated out of a rented space.

Medicinal Purposes

What's New 2020

More healthcare facilities are finding a home in Columbia County.

The ability to meet the healthcare needs of Columbia County residents continues to increase as the population keeps growing. While the county is the state’s largest without a hospital, the efforts to build a hospital in Columbia County are ongoing.

In August, after a nearly six-year process, AU Medical Center received the go-ahead to build the county’s first hospital. The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled against Doctors Hospital in its lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Community Health, which granted AU Health a state license to build the hospital if the county pays at least 20 percent of the costs.

However, Doctors Hospital also appealed the latest ruling, so the decision to move forward remains in the hands of the courts.

In addition, AU Health as well as University and Doctors hospitals are pursuing plans to build free-standing emergency room facilities in Columbia County.

Doctors Hospital received state approval in June to build a 12-bed, 12,760-square-foot, free-standing emergency room on North Belair Road in Evans. The 24-hour facility, which will be built on the former Fatz Café site, will have a full lab, radiology and telemedicine services.

The 17,500-square-foot University Hospital facility would be located in Evans on University Parkway, and the 19,500-square-foot AU Health facility would be located in the Greenbrier area of Evans.

Evans Medical Group moved from Belair Road to a new 15,000-square-foot complex on Town Park Road in Evans in August. Features of the new facility include a drive-under portico for patient drop off, an expansive waiting room, 30 exam rooms and an on-site lab.

In addition, a newly constructed Georgialina Physical Therapy opened earlier this year on Furys Ferry Road next to Toast.

Harlem Family Dental also has opened in the former Masonic Building on North Louisville Road.

Fun and Games

Whats New 2020

Recreational and entertainment opportunities for residents are on the rise.

While Columbia County has an abundance of natural resources that provide outdoor activities such as biking and paddling, more amenities are coming to the county as well.

Phase I of the Euchee Creek Greenway, which stretches from Canterbury Farms subdivision to William Few Parkway, opened in September.

Other types of recreational opportunities also are available or on the way. For instance, the 70,000-square-foot Performing Arts Center is scheduled to be finished in Decembes. “We’re hoping, if covid allows us, to have events there early in 2021,” says John Luton, director of Community and Leisure Services.

With the capacity to accommodate about 2,100 people, the PAC will provide space for a variety of entertainment opportunities such as Broadway plays, orchestras and other performing arts groups. The PAC will have a multipurpose room and a museum as well.

Nearby, construction of The Plaza parking deck is estimated to be complete by December. The $4 million parking deck will include about 280 spaces. Construction of another parking deck and expansion of the Justice Center are “still on hold,” Scott Sterling, the county Planning Services director, says, because the bids came in over budget.

Two new parks opened this year in Columbia County. Gateway Park opened in March, and Lakeside Park opened in August.

“The splash pad at Gateway has been popular, and we have had a few small events there like movie night,” says Luton.

Other Gateway Park amenities include a playground, a large covered pavilion and a 150,000-square-foot meadow surrounded by a concrete walking path.

Lakeside Park features five multipurpose fields, six lighted tennis/pickleball courts, a playground, pavilions, picnic areas and a lighted, half-mile walking trail.

In addition, the Patriots Park expansion was finished in the summer. This project included improved connectivity between the two main sections of the park, and a 530-foot-by-308-foot mega field with lights and a restrooms/concession building.

The county is finalizing the design of the $3 million renovations to Blanchard Park on Dewey Drive off of Belair Road in Martinez. Plans include the construction of actual pieces of the playground into the topography, a rope-like bridge across the creek and a dog park. County officials hope to break ground on the project sometime next year.

The search is still on for land to build a $3 million park in the Riverwood area as well.

Featuring open green space, the Plaza Park at Evans Towne Center will provide additional parking for the PAC. A covered pavilion for a farmers’ market is part of the plans as well.

“We hope to open the Plaza Park by early 2021. We hope it will be finished by the time we have the first show at the PAC,” says Luton.

He says covid-19 has had little effect on recreational opportunities. “It really hasn’t slowed construction. It has slowed down some events or programs, but we’ve tried to push forward,” Luton says.

Bids for Sandy Creek Trail, a multi-use trail in Harlem that will be built in two phases, went out in August. Off of Milledgeville Road, the trail will run south parallel to Appling Harlem Road.

Enopion Theatre broke ground on its new 150-seat theater on Flowing Wells Road in October 2019, and construction should get underway in November. The property also includes walking paths and five small outdoor stages, which currently are in use.

Road Show

Whats New 2020

With more people, businesses and amenities coming, road projects to accommodate the growth are part of the landscape as well.

Orange barrels are a familiar sight on Columbia County roadways as a number of projects are in various stages of construction. Local residents approved T-SPLOST road projects as part of the Transportation Investment Act in 2012. Voters also approved a new round of TIA road projects for 2023-2032 in June. In addition, Georgia Department of Transportation projects are underway in the county.

Projects include:

  • Extension of Gateway Boulevard to Wrightsboro Road. County official expect the $6 million project, which will include a traffic signal at the intersection of the two roads, to be complete in three or four months.
  • Widening of Flowing Wells Road. This $20 million project is in the utility relocation phase, and county officials hope to select a contractor by the end of the year. They also hope to start the second phase, which will include storm water management, signal upgrades and paving, in early 2021.
  • Widening of Furys Ferry Road. A 3-mile stretch of Furys Ferry Road will be widened from two to four lanes between Evans to Locks Road and the Savannah River. “We hope to have it out to bid and under contract by the end of the year if we come in within the budget,” says Steve Exley, the Engineering Services deputy director. The $50 million project, which should take three or four years to complete, also will include installation of a raised median, construction of a roundabout at Hardy McManus Road and installation of a shared-use path and sidewalks.
  • Improvements to Lewiston Road. Utility work, which is expected to take at least a year, is slated to begin in early 2021. The main feature of the $34 million project will be the conversion of a diamond interchange to a diverging diamond interchange, which crosses traffic to the opposite side of the road and eliminates left turns, at Interstate 20. This interchange will be the first of its kind in Georgia outside of the Atlanta area. The improvements, which should take 3.5 years to complete, also include adding a raised median with openings, installing a multi-use trail and sidewalks, and widening the road to four lanes from Columbia Road to Interstate 20. “We don’t have to widen the bridge. We just have to do some significant improvements to the ramps,” Exley says.
  • Improvements to the Hereford Farm and Blanchard roads intersection. This project is expected to improve delays and safety at this intersection by adding a left-turn lane, merge lane and traffic signal. The intersection will operate as a continuous green T intersection, a three-way intersection in which one direction of traffic is allowed to travel straight through without stopping. Groundbreaking could begin in the first quarter of 2021.
  • Widening of Hereford Farm Road. The road will be widened from two to four lanes, beginning 860 feet north of the intersection at Columbia Road and extending for 5.5 miles to North Belair Road. The project also will include a raised median and a shared-use path on both sides of the roadway. Construction on the Hereford Farm Road project could get underway in 2023 or 2024, depending on when the county secures the funding.
  • Widening of Hardy McManus Road. The $30 million, 3.1-mile project likely will get underway in 2024. The existing two-lane road will be converted to a multi-modal corridor with a three-lane section. The project also will include bicycle and pedestrian amenities; the installation of roundabouts at the Furys Ferry Road, Dolphin Way, Aylesbury Drive and Halali Farm Road intersections; an upgraded railroad crossing and planted islands spaced out sporadically in the center of the road. “The planted median will be planned around driveways,” says Kyle Titus, the Engineering Services director. “The Furys Ferry Road roundabout will be constructed with that project.”
  • Widening of Stevens Creek Road. The roadway will be widened from Mayo to Evans to Locks roads, and a roundabout will be constructed at the Evans to Locks Road intersection. Construction of the 2-mile, $28 million project is not expected to begin until 2026 to 2028.
  • Widening of Horizon South Parkway (exit 190). Columbia County is in the acquisition phase of the $26 million project that will widen the road from two to four lanes from the south side of I-20 at exit 190 to Wrightsboro Road. Construction, which could begin in late 2021 or early 2022, also will include a raised median as well as a multi-use trail and sidewalks.
  • Improvements at the Appling Harlem Road and I-20 junction (exit 183). In an $11 million project at exit 183 of I-20, the bridge will be replaced, and two roundabouts will be constructed to eliminate the limited sight distance exiting the westbound ramp. “When we put those roundabouts in, it will lower the speeds,” says Exley.
  • Improvements to South Old Belair Road and Old Belair Lane. Turn lanes will be added at the intersection, where a new subdivision will be constructed.

 

Cyber Command Headquarters Dedicated

Whats New 2020

The Army command dedicated to defending against hackers and other online threats celebrated its move into a new $366 million headquarters.

With the dedication of its new headquarters at Fort Gordon in a ceremony in September, the U.S. Army Cyber Command consolidated cyber organizations that were spread across multiple facilities at three Army installations in three states.

Fortitude Hall, the state-of-the-art, 336,000-square-foot, $366 million facility, provides a focal point for command and control of round-the-clock global operations conducted by ARCYBER’s staff and subordinate units.

The name of the facility comes from World War II’s Operation Fortitude, part of the Allies’ efforts to mislead Hitler about the invasion of Normandy.

The project is the culmination of plans that started in 2013 when Army officials first directed that ARCYBER consolidate functions to bring cyberspace operations, capability development, training and education together in one location at Fort Gordon.

Citing the facility as a vital weapons system with global reach, ARCYBER commander Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty said, “This building was purpose-built to facilitate those collaborative partnerships to better enable the integration of cyber, signal, electronic warfare, intelligence and information operations to help commanders achieve their mission. It represents the center of our global reach … and it allows us to sense, decide and act much faster than our adversaries in a warfighting domain where speed is paramount.”

Fortitude Hall is expected to bring more than 1,200 soldiers, civilian professionals and industry partners, as well as more than 3,000 family members, to the local community.

By Leigh Howard

Animal Instincts

People

Photos courtesy of Dan Eaton

Catching unwelcome wildlife comes naturally to a local trapper.

Tracking coyotes, grappling with alligators or having a snake land on your head after it falls out of a tree might be disconcerting to most people. For Dan Eaton of Evans, it’s all in a day’s work.

For more than 25 years, he has owned and operated CSRA Trapping Services to conduct the humane removal of unwanted wildlife from properties. He started the business after a local farmer called him and asked him to trap beavers on his property because they were keeping him from moving his cows from one pasture to another.

“I said I would do it in a couple of months, but the farmer said he would pay me if I did it then,” Eaton says.

Bats & Birds, Squirrels & Snakes
The job is a natural for Eaton, who has been trapping animals since he was 10 years old. Growing up on a farm in southern Illinois in the 1970s, he trapped minks, muskrats and raccoons.

“When you’re only 10 years old, you have to trap the animals you find around ponds and creeks,” says Eaton, whose uncle taught him how to trap.

Now, he traps animals such as coyotes, alligators, snakes, foxes, raccoons, possums, squirrels, bats and birds with his business that is licensed by the Department of Natural Resources in Georgia and in South Carolina.

“If it walks, crawls, flies or swims, and you’ve got ’em, we get ’em,” says Eaton.

During his career, Eaton has been bitten by frightened or angry critters only a couple of times. Of course, he has a foolproof way to protect himself from bites. “I don’t put my hand in the animal’s mouth,” he says.

He uses various tools of the trade such as cages, foothold traps (which have no sharp edges), choke sticks and snake tongs to humanely snare wildlife. He reaches into crawl spaces with a claw to catch uninvited animals. Under regulations, Eaton has to check his traps every 24 hours. He takes care of the animals based on state requirements, which can range from euthanizing to relocating the animal.

According to Eaton, people’s reaction to wildlife should depend on where the animal is and what it is doing.

“If you see an animal in your yard, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s living there. It could just be passing through,” he says.

Wily Coyotes
From 2014 until 2016, Eaton was part of three-year University of Georgia study to understand how coyotes thrive in the South, and how they differ from those in the North and West.

He trapped about 75 coyotes altogether, and he had to weigh, measure, photograph the teeth and put a GPS tracking collar on each of them.

Biologists also took DNA and blood samples from the animals, and the scientists hoped to learn how coyotes navigate agricultural fields and woods and how they hunt.

The technology allowed researchers to follow the movements of the coyotes to see how they dispersed and populated new areas. Biologists also hoped to develop management strategies to reduce coyote populations by gaining an understanding of their movements and patterns.

The ability to monitor so many animals simultaneously shed light on coyote behavior and identified traits of resident coyotes, which exhibit strong allegiance to areas, and transient coyotes, which have nomadic tendencies.

Eaton says it’s a challenge to trap coyotes. For the study he used beaver-based bait to entice them to put a paw in a 3.5-inch, circular foothold that was buried underground in a 100-acre area.

“They’re pretty smart. They’re harder to catch. Everything else is pretty easy. Coyotes learn, and I learn from them,” says Eaton. “They’re survivors. Just when you think you have something figured out, they do something different.”

Coyotes are also a concern in suburban areas, where they can prey on small pets, and Eaton finds it particularly gratifying to catch predator animals. “Coyotes are the apex predator in Georgia,” he says.

Later, Gator
Coyotes might be wily, crafty creatures, but alligators, well, not so much.

“Their brain is the size of a golf ball,” Eaton says. “They’re not smart.”

Not that it’s effortless to trap a gator, though. This summer Eaton caught a 4-foot alligator that was taking a dip in a pool at a Burke County home. “He didn’t want to come out of the pool,” says Eaton.

He had to guide the gator to the shallow end of the pool with a long-handled skimmer and pull it out with a catch pole. After taping the alligator’s mouth and legs together, he put it in the back of his truck and released it in the Savannah River.

“You can tape alligators’ mouths shut with two fingers,” says Eaton. “They don’t have any strength when they open their mouth. It’s all when they close it.”

Another alligator that he recently caught in a residential pond in Louisville required different tactics. “We had to wear him out first,” Eaton says.

The trapper got in a boat, caught the 3-foot alligator with a fishing pole and let him pull the boat around until he was exhausted. Eaton released this gator into the Ogeechee River.

He even caught an alligator in downtown Augusta by throwing a towel over its head and jumping on its back.

Fear Factor (Or Lack Thereof)
However, the call he dreads the most is the one to trap moles. Not because of anything the little varmints do, however. “It’s not a quick fix, and everybody wants a quick fix,” Eaton says.

So far, his most unusual task has been capturing a red-tail boa constrictor that was a one-snake welcome committee for new homeowners who found it after moving into their house. The boa had belonged to the college-aged son of the previous owners. His parents thought he had taken the snake to college with him, but it actually had escaped from its aquarium – much to the chagrin of the new residents.

Eaton’s biggest fear on the job comes, not from the animals, but from the possibility of falling off of a roof or a ladder. He took a 40-foot fall from a rooftop about three years ago when he was trying to trap bats. He had to have shoulder surgery as a result of the fall, but he still caught the bats.

Largely self-taught, Eaton is a member of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association, and he has taken certification classes through the organization. He is a member of the Georgia Trappers Association, and he has a good relationship with the state Department of Natural Resources.

“I have learned a lot from other people, and I have taken classes and seminars through associations,” he says.

Since animals tend to appear on their own time, trapping them is not a 9-to-5 vocation. And it’s no wonder Eaton has no qualms about tangling with wildlife for a living. After all, he spends his spare time jumping out of airplanes and teaching freefall and tandem skydiving lessons.

“I’m not smart enough to be scared,” says Eaton. “Nothing surprises me anymore. I expect the unexpected.”

Anytime, anywhere.

“I got bitten by a copperhead once and had to go to the hospital, and I wasn’t even on the job,” he says. “I was picking up wood in my own backyard.”

As for any snake that freefalls on top of him out of trees in the woods, he has a matter-of-fact method of slithering out of its path. “I grab the snake and throw it one way,” Eaton says, “and I go the other way.”

By Todd Beck