City of Ellijay to discuss removal of downtown parking Monday

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – More than just citizens living inside the city limits, people from East Ellijay and all over Gilmer County outside of either city’s limits have been voicing opinions and concerns over the loss of parking on the square and down River Street.

parkingThis Monday, October 15, 2021, will see the Ellijay City Council hear the proposal from a representative of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and has an agenda item to take action on the subject. The agenda lists this as “Downtown Parking Elimination Test.” The idea is to test how the area will respond without parking through Light Up Ellijay in December. The Mayor’s Report in the city council notes that this will eliminate parking “on the roundabout and River Street.”

Discussion has risen from the DDA, but has found stark opposition from certain members of the public. From very specific concerns of elderly and handicapped people looking to keep the close by parking for places like the Cantaberry Restaurant, Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company, Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza, River Street Tavern, and others to general concerns about eliminating any parking in such a busy area of the city.

Those speaking in favor of the elimination have quoted public safety concerns and traffic flow. Accidents have occurred in the area and comments have been made referencing these incidents when someone may pull out or back out into traffic. Others have complained about how difficult it is to back out of the lots on the square.

Discussions have also come from some to convert the roundabout parking into all handicapped parking spaces and marking off several spots to allow for van unloading from the sides for wheelchair users.

parkingThe Downtown Square already has posted speed limits signs along River Street and the city has also put up flashing signs in the past warning drivers of their speed as they cross the bridge on River Street.

Eighteen parking spots isn’t a large number compared to the lot sizes like the one behind Dalton State College or the one behind the courthouse next to the Tabor House, but the main push to keep the spots has focused on the needs for closer parking for older people. Four years ago, in 2016, research was shown in the Gilmer Board of Commissioners meetings as the county was losing its hospital proving Gilmer had 25% of its population as 65 or older. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, research has proven that the consistent occupancy of Gilmer County is increasing from more and more people moving here along with more and more tourists visiting.

The question of the day and the question behind the parking spots on the roundabout and down River Street, ultimately, has very little to do with parking, but has everything to do with traffic and congestion. Some downtown business owners are also pushing to keep the roadside parking to allow for older citizens to have easier access, but also to allow for those who may see an open spot and are only looking to quickly get in and out of one store instead of touring the downtown area.

Officials have emphasized that the action taken, if approved, is only a test run. Discussion has continued to run rampant among how the city would block off the spots, what kind of image it gives to visitors, what it would do to locals, how it would affect businesses, how it will change the look and feel of the downtown area. Discussion will continue on Monday, October 18, 2021, at 5:30 when the City of Ellijay enters its workshop right before the 6:00 p.m. meeting.

Highway 382 roundabout project now in use as final stages commence

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Highway 382 has seen construction on the roundabout project to connect a direct route to Highway 515 for nearly a year. The Georgia Department of Transportation project began in the latter half of 2019 despite the COVID-19 outbreaks and is still continuing today.

roundabout

A view from entering the roundabout from Highway 382 and heading towards Highway 515.

However, the project has hit the point now where all traffic has been moved from the old route passing directly beside Green’s Country Store to the new path curving off just past Dollar General, if you’re traveling towards Ellijay.

The stop signs at the old intersection have been removed and traffic is now fully engaging the roundabout with the Highway 382 extension in use as well.

Utilizing the extension that now crosses Old Highway 5, via the roundabout, and continues straight towards Highway 515 instead of merging with Old Highway 5 before a a small connector split off to intersect 515 at Powersports Drive.

roundabout

Construction continues into the final stages for the Old 5 and Highway 382 roundabout as it enters the final stages of construction.

The new direct path intersects Highway closer to town at the Gun Pro Shop. However, the intersection is not a traffic stop.

Instead, drivers traveling to 515 along the new connection are forced to turn right (Southbound) away from Ellijay before using a turn lane a few hundred feet down the road in order to turn back towards Ellijay.

The project reaches all the way back to 2016 when the Gilmer Board of Commissioners and the City of Ellijay received letters from GDOT about the coming project. Original seeking letters of support, discussion later turned towards lighting and maintenance costs for the roundabout itself as GDOT wanted the county or city to take over those costs while they continued paving maintenance for 382 itself.

roundabout

GDOT has been working on the roundabout project since last year, but plans began back in 2016 with letters to Gilmer County and the City of Ellijay.

Current understanding is that these are the remaining steps in the project as GDOT has put some lighting on the roundabout for night traffic, but it was not seen operational over the weekend.

While the project continues these steps and clean-up, the larger portion of the project is now complete and has begun traffic flow only in the last couple of days. GDOT stated earlier this year that expectations were to complete the project over the summer. The project has seen delays through weather over the last year, but no specific details are available at this time on whether returning COVID-19 numbers or increasingly heavy rainfall in some weeks were the cause of any major delays.

Ralston dedicates Cecil Mathews Memorial Bridge in Ellijay

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – A new sign for the Cecil Mathews Memorial Bridge stands on the roadside just at Turniptown Creek just before you get to the shops at Whitepath Commons when traveling from Ellijay. A simple brown sign stands for a man of Ellijay’s history.

Mathews

Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston speaks at the dedication ceremony of the Cecil Mathews Memorial Bridge on September 14, 2021.

On September 14, 2021, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and Representative of District 7, David Ralston visited the site with family and friends of the late Cecil Mathews to dedicate the bridge over Turniptown Creek to him.

With 7 kids, six daughters and one son, Cecil Mathews was memorialized in a ceremony dedicating the bridge to his memory for his remaining family. All of his children but one were able to attend, but few had a short drive. Eldest child Maxine Clark said that many of the siblings are spread all over the southeast from Kentucky to Alabama and one still living in Ellijay.

With local leaders Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson and Chamber President/CEO Jennifer Grimmer also attending, the family listened as Speaker Ralston read the official resolution naming the bridge and delivered two duplicated signs to the family members.

Ralston said, “He was a very highly thought of person in this community.”

Mathews

During the ceremony on Tuesday, Septermber 14, 2021, the first sign was revealed for the newly dedicated Cecil Mathews Memorial Bridge over Turniptown Creek.

Mathews opened his own sawmill in Ellijay in 1965 after operating others for 15 years previous. According to the approved resolution, he later completed the total electrification of the business in 1966 which “allowed for the streamlining of production and an increase in lumber supply used in the manufacture of furniture and flooring.”

A special feat in that day, the electrification allowed for 15,000 feet of lumber to be sawed in a day with grading still done by hand. This also attracted other businesses to the county at the time and aided in modernizing the area.

Patsy Harris, one of Mathews’ daughters, accepted a bound copy of the resolution on behalf of the family.

Harris said, “Thanks be to God, there is seven of us children and we’re all still living. We’re all in our 70’s and 80’s. I appreciate what you did.”

From left to right, Maxine Clark, Joann Crotzer, Jackie Allums, James Mathews, Patsy Harris, and Susan Buckner attend the ceremony honoring their father. Not pictured is daughter Doris Hammond.

Maxine Clark of Blairsville and Mathew’s eldest daughter, chuckled as she fought back tears when asked about the sign and what it meant to see her father memorialized in the area they grew up. Amid the tearful moment she could only reply, “What do you think?”

Taking a moment, Clark eventually said, “Daddy was the best man in my life. I still can’t talk about it but I guess I’m the ‘bawl-box’ of the family.”

Each of his seven children, from eldest to youngest, are Maxine Clark, Joann Crotzer, Doris Hammond, Jackie Allums, James Mathews, Patsy Harris, and Susan Buckner.

Gracie Barra Gym celebrates success in competition and lives of students

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Is it medal or metal? What type of gold are people bringing home from Ellijay’s Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiujitsu gym.

On Saturday, May 22, 2021, Braelyn Nelson, Maddie Harper, Emma Lowman, Ryleigh Monteith, Tucker Cain, John Tippens, Jaydn Beattie, Jolene Lemey, and Augustus Lemey gathered as a team to compete at Tap Out Cancer – a jiujitsu competition aiding in the fight against cancer. Tap Out Cancer provides funding to nine different beneficiaries, each working to provide research and healing for many different types of cancer. The Atlanta event raised $97,600, with Augustus and Jolene Lemey of Gracie Barra Ellijay raising $1060 for the event.

Gracie Barra

Maddie Harper, bottom, is in a defensive position against her opponent during the Tap Out Cancer competition on May 22, 2021.

According to Paige Galitello, one of the gym’s three instructors, “Each of these young jiujitsu practitioners and their families have dedicated countless hours to their training each week, and their hard work was obvious to everyone in attendance at the tournament.”

Braelyn Nelson and Jadyn Beattie placed first in their respective divisions coming back to Ellijay with gold medals. Tucker Cain and John Tippens brought home silver medals in their divisions. Maddie Harper, Emma Lowman, and Augustus Lemey earned bronze medals for their divisions.

This, in and of itself, is cause for celebration. Galitello said, “For the coaches, it is truly a joy to watch the cohesion and strength of Gracie Barra Ellijay’s team grow with each training session leading up to an event like this one.”

Just walking into the gym and speaking with two of the instructors, it’s very easy to see such a difference between them. Coach Kerry Sweat has such an overwhelming excitement for the martial art of Brazilian Jiujitsu, for the Gracie Barra family, and for what the gym has and will become. Every word from his mouth compels you further into the martial art and the depth of commitment that is both required and fundamentally built into program. Coach Paige Galitello has a far more reserved, yet intense, demeanor. A competitive spirit runs deep. It is apparent as she speaks of the competitions and training she goes through. That fierceness walks right alongside a very mindful and caring attitude as she spends far more time talking about the kids in competition, other adults, and the confident culture that propagates within the program.

Ryleigh Monteith, left, is grabbed as she grapples an opponent in the Tap Out Cancer competition on May 22, 2021.

That confidence comes from, as she says, “having tools in the toolbox.” This metaphor she equates to the the training and capabilities she has learned that make her feel safer.

Kerry Sweat, one co-owner of the Gracie Barra gym and also owner of Sweat Plumbing, said, “I never intended on owning this. I never practiced martial arts in my entire life.” A little before the age of 50, Sweat began learning martial arts skills with an MMA group in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Learning some Tae Kwon Do, Akido, Jiujitsu, Sambo, and Muay Thai, he gained a very eclectic introduction from whoever was available. As he says, he got beat up for a year.

But as many in the group fell away following life’s path, Sweat held one specific man in memory, a man that held his own with every person in the group. He was a black belt from the Gracie Barra group. Some time later, the group started focusing on just Brazilian Jiujitsu and Sweat was introduced to Professor Fabio Costa, a 4th Degree Black Belt that was promoted to Black Belt by Master Carlos Gracie, Jr., in 2004. Costa is currently a 25-year-veteran of Jiujitsu and the Gracie Barra Regional Director of the state of Georgia.

Sweat said that meeting Costa was the moment when he knew this was it. This was the guy.

Becoming a Gracie Barra instructor has a great focus on the organization’s core value, “Make the world a better place.” A fully defensive martial art, Brazillian Jiujitsu sets these kids, and adults who study, into a self-defense mentality that focuses on defusing situations before they become more. However, one must also be able to defend one’s self if someone doesn’t listen. It is all a part of, as Galitello said, “having tools in the toolbox.”

Back, left to right, Coaches Kerry Sweat, Justin Guise, Paige Galitello, and Kathy Cole.     Middle, left to right, Augustus Laméy, Jaydn Beattie, and Braelyn Nelson.                          Front, left to right, Ryleigh Monteith, Emma Lowman, Maddie Harper, and Jolene Laméy.

Sweat said, “We have to serve the kids in the community… What better thing to do than teach kids how to defend themselves?” He went on to add, “Their skill level is going to be so good after they do it a couple years that they will never have to use it the rest of their lives. They’ll be like Jedi Knights, ‘We don’t want any trouble here.'”

Sweat recalled a story of one student he had and the teachers who shared their story of this student that went into their class. Apparently, this student would find a bully or troublemaker that had been picking on people in class, and sit right next to them. Within a day, Sweat recalls, “They’d be playing Pokemon or something together and that boy would never pick on anybody again.”

He attributes stories like this to not only the defensive and defusing attitude in situations, but also to the activity of practicing this martial art. He considers that maybe this bully isn’t comforted, encouraged, or even touched in positive ways at home or with certain people. Brazillian Jiujitsu is a very contact-heavy and close-in activity. Being in constant contact with fighters, training with each other, and growing together, the positive contact, like shaking hands or even a pat on the back, it comes with that training and there is a respect that grows from it. These concepts permeate a person and show through in every interaction.

Students are working hard to achieve their goals and test themselves in tournaments. Galitello expresses this growth best saying, “For our young competitors, these types of competitions are fun and challenging events which allow them to showcase the results of all the hard work that they have put in while preparing for the tournament. Our motto ‘Win or Learn’ always holds true.”

And that motto is not just words. Sweat warned that anybody that walks in is going to get put down when they first start. All these people know so much and have trained. You’re going to learn and grow through those trainings and matches.

After attending a Kids Ferst meeting, Sweat was encouraged back in the beginning of the gym to teach kids and help them grow. He had a goal to have kids in the program that you wouldn’t need to test or examine closely to know they were better. He wanted kids in the community that you could just look at and know that they are different.

However, to emphasize that goal and more, Galitello noted that every member on the competition team had straight A’s this semester. So, they may be bringing home medals in their competition, but they are also continuing their efforts in school and in life. The kids sign contracts and agreements for their commitments.

Galitello says it’s also about working with the kids’ families. Having another group to lean on and having everyone support each other in their efforts to help these students become better people. Having people who “care” outside of a student’s immediate family is a major difference-maker as these instructor have techniques in the program to build the students in so many different ways. From changing partners mid-session to make sure every knows and gets used to each other to helping with grades or just having someone to talk to when needed, these methods help to build this “family” within the Gracie Barra gym.

Augustus Laméy, right, grabs the collar of his opponent, a common move in a type of Brazilian Jiujitsu, during the Tap Out Cancer competition on May 22, 2021.

Sweat and Galitello are not the only instructors at the Ellijay-based gym. Both instructors had one more name in their minds when talking about the kids competitions. Another co-owner and instructor with a massive influence in the instruction of the youth is Justin Guise. Guise is the gym’s Head Coach, according to their website. Galitello says he is also her instructor.

“The kids are just drawn to him,” says Galitello as she explains the monumental impact that he has in the gym. A key figure, he not only leads and teaches some of the instructors, he also builds into the fundamentals that these kids establish their entire studies on.

Every single time a student of the art comes to a class they “level up,” says Galitello. Whether they are young kids to older adults, everyone grows.

She joked about Guise saying that she drags him around helping to coach for tournaments. But the common verse in the whole gym spreads to these instructors, they are constantly giving credit to other coaches and talking about how each shares in the instruction and learning. Guise instructs the kids, but he also teaches Galitello. Galitello competes as well as instructs competition classes. Sweat shared that even he learns from Guise, a fellow co-owner of the gym.

He went on to add that this one gym isn’t the limit in this program. Constantly communicating, gyms across the region have open mat times and share their facilities for those seeking people to train with. Just as they teach the kids to push themselves further and use competitions to practice against new people, so too, do they themselves seek out new people and training partners.

Training together with the same people can leave you unsure of where you stand. Galitello notes that these students who compete get to effectively train with people from all over when they go to competitions, they train together and prepare together, it becomes a group celebration sharing in the glory of any success. But, coming home, it means more real applicable knowledge and experience that one student can share with another. There are instructors in the gym, but everyone can teach something.

Gracie Barra

Members of the Gracie Barra gym in Ellijay during the Tap Out Cancer competition in 2021. Back, left to right, Kerry Sweat, Justin Guise, Jaydn Beattie, Braelyn Nelson, Tucker Cain, John Tippens, Augustus Laméy, and Paige Galititello. Front, left to right, Kathy Cole, Maddie Harper, Emma Lowman, Ryleigh Monteith, and Jolene Laméy.

This comes from the culture they have built. Even Professor Costa visits gyms like Ellijay. Sweat may be a instructor, but he learns from his superiors, he continues lessons through digital training videos, he trains with those in his gym and in other gyms, as does everyone. They are constantly building and improving. Galitello has trained with men and women in the gym as she has prepared for higher weight classes in competitions. The same way, Guise is a key part of a larger effort in the lives of younger students, and the whole “family” shares in the success.

Coming home with these medals, Galitello said she hasn’t seen these kids’ egos explode. Instead, she has seen each student sharing their experiences.

“This worked better when I was in this position.” “Try it this way next time.” “Avoid this move when you’re doing that.” These are examples of the type of coaching they give each other now.

It is a fundamental idea that each instructor has ingrained into the fabric of the experience. Sweat shared stories about how he has traveled and met many people, and one things he knows, there is always someone better. Humility is something learned.

Practicing, competing, and achieving that gold is a feeling unto itself. But Sweat says it’s only fuel to push farther, you got gold and were the best… of those who competed. It pushes you to train harder to achieve more in the next competition, to seek out others and test yourself against them.

Sharing in the glory of gold, silver, and bronze, students become athletes become artists, Martial Artists. But along the way, something else is forged.

It is a common phrase that most have probably heard, “What are you made of?”

On May 22, 2021, seven students came home to the Gracie Barra Gym in Ellijay with medals around their necks. Yet, training, growing, and competing in this gym, there comes more metal inside than what can hang on a ribbon.

Pilgrim’s closed during the JBS Cyber Attack

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s local chicken plant, a Pilgrim’s processing facility, shut down this week in light of “communications systems” within the facility. Pilgrim’s is owned by JBS USA, the target of the recent major cyberattack.

JBS S.A. is a Brazilian multinational company, acknowledged as one of the worldwide food industry leaders. Headquartered in Sao Paulo, the Company is present in 15 countries.

The local branch of the company informed employees late Sunday afternoon May 30, 2021, that they would be cancelling shifts at the plant. Sunday is when JBS USA says it was targeted by an “organized cybersecurity attack”

The facility stayed closed until informing employees that the company would resume at their normal scheduled shifts on “Tuesday night and Wednesday morning” according to the company’s public statements.

According to the Associated Press, “The FBI attributed the attack on Brazil-based meat processor JBS SA to REvil, a Russian-speaking gang that has made some of the largest ransomware demands on record in recent months.

Locally, Pilgrim’s has recovered and reopened faster than most in the parent company according to public statements that they expected to return by Thursday and be running close to full capacity. However, this statement was speaking to its entire global operations.

JBS USA said in a public statement that it utilized the company’s own global network of IT professionals and third-party experts to recover from the attack which may have helped Ellijay’s facility return to operations after only two days of shut down.

JBS USA stated, “The company is not aware of any evidence at this time that any customer, supplier or employee data has been compromised or misused as a result of the situation.”

In a separate statement released on June 2, 2021, Andre Nogueira, JBS USA CEO, stated, “JBS USA and Pilgrim’s continue to make significant progress in restoring our IT systems and returning to business as usual. Today, the vast majority of our facilities resumed operations as we forecast yesterday, including all of our pork, poultry and prepared foods facilities around the world and the majority of our beef facilities in the U.S. and Australia.”

County renames park to Ralston River Park

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Honoring the entire Ralston family for contributions to the county and the park specifically, including that of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to rename the riverside park along Old Highway 5 to “Ralston River Park.”

Ralston

In April of 2018, Speaker David Ralston attended the opening of the new playground at River Park which a state grant aided local funds in creating.

Originating in this month’s meeting as an agenda item to rename the walking path for the Ralston family, discussion turned to the 28 years of service the county has received through numerous efforts from the family as a whole. Parks and Recreations Director Kevan White spoke during the Commissioners Work Session on the topic saying that some of those efforts include employment with the Parks and Rec Department, officiating basketball games over the years, memberships to the Parks and Rec Advisory Board, coaching various sports, GRPA awards and recognitions, state level service with  public service since 1992, state legislation since 2002, volunteer services in disasters like Hurricane Isaac, state-level support in the recent upgrades, county level public service in the commissioners office, and more.

The original proposal the White spoke of was to name the path the “Ralston Riverwalk.” However, Post Commissioner Hubert Parker offered a step-up alternative in naming the whole park instead of the just the walking path. While White said he had thought about it, but didn’t propose it at first, he noted that several parts of the park, like the tennis courts, bear names of people who have dedicated great services to the county and the Parks and Recreation Department as well. White also noted that he has further plans for other dedications in the Clear Creek area as well.

Ralston

Kevan White speaks to the Gilmer BOC in May of 2021 about renaming the park as “Ralston River Park.”

Ultimately, no objection came, and a unanimous agreement to increase the dedication from the walking path to the park in general was made. The BOC May Regular meeting saw the formal motion to add the honorific.

The official name change completed, Chairman Charlie Paris did tell FYN that the county would be placing some sort of plaque or signage bearing the name in the future. But does not currently have a sign ready for it.

Ellijay sees surge at gas pumps with Colonial Pipeline shutdown

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the recent news of both the Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown and restart, many citizens have resorted to stocking and gathering extra gas. While citizens have reported people filling extra cans and tanks in Gilmer County, nothing has yet been reported as some photos on the internet show in major cities where people are filling everything from trash cans to plastic bags in order to store and collect gasoline for future use.

Despite the lines and crowds of this week, today saw gas stations across Ellijay with very few cars waiting and very few stations closed.

On Tuesday, Governor Brian Kemp suspended Georgia’s gas tax and prohibited price gouging. The Murphy gas station in the Walmart parking lot in Ellijay had an attendant walking pump to pump on Tuesday, some said the attendant was monitoring vehicles to make sure no one person was filling too many extra tanks. However, the attendant declined to comment with the media directly.

But Murphy is not the only station that would be doing this. One resident living in Pickens, Mark said that he found the BP in Jasper limiting the amount of gas citizens could buy as well.

Lines have formed over the last few days as people continue either topping off their tanks or collecting extra, and Green’s Country Store at the corner of Old Highway 5 and Highway 515 did have its sign shutdown on Tuesday. The Conoco next to the Walgreens in Ellijay also had pumps closed one day. However, despite some closures here and there and lines for only a couple days, the county has not seen mass shutdowns or devastating effects like some major cities.

gas

Shutdowns have occurred in Gilmer County, but not to the extent of some larger cities. Still, some stations like the Valero on Highway 382 have seen the effects of the surge in the county.

That does not mean that authorities are not responding and trying to help citizens. Gilmer’s Public Safety Department posted to social media yesterday saying “The Georgia Consumer Affairs Protection Division has set up phone lines for the purpose of reporting price gouging.”

Federal authorities are saying that many places will see a “return to operations” by the weekend. In fact, as pictured, most gas stations in Gilmer today are devoid of the lines from the past few days, and few have been seen closed.

Attacked by hackers, media reports have indicated that Colonial Pipeline paid the ransomware attack to the tune of $5 million. Nobody knows if that cost is going to keep gas prices high in the coming weeks. Gilmer alone saw many of its stations hovering around and just under $3 per gallon over the last few days, while before the attack, most prices were closer to $2.70 per gallon.

Although there have been no current reports in Ellijay or East Ellijay, citizens have feared over the last few days that some might seek to take advantage of the shortage by hiking prices to outrageous amounts. For those cases of extreme hikes, Gilmer Public Safety’s post about price gouging included some directions for reporting.

The Division has been overwhelmed with calls and asks that you review and confirm the elements of price gouging, as outlined below, before calling their office.

They can be reached at 404-651-8600 or Toll Free 1-800-869-1123 if outside of the Metro Atlanta calling area. Representatives are available weekdays between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM on Friday.

Price gouging in Georgia is defined as follows:
Selling items or services determined by the Governor during a declared state of emergency to be necessary for public safety at a higher cost than they were immediately prior to the declaration.
Charged as a deceptive or unfair trade practice (and investigated by the AG as such); an additional civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation if “disaster-related.”

One day ago, massive lines and wait times plagued gas stations like this one in Blairsville, Georgia.

Disaster strikes Gilmer with Major flooding

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Stranded cars, road washouts, mudslides, and many other dangers have already been reported to Gilmer County Public Safety late tonight amid continued flooding, March 25, 2021, as they continue planning and responding to the issues present in the night.

Officials are calling for citizens to remain indoors tonight with flashlights ready as any homes have already lost power. They are suggesting people charge your cell phones immediately in case of these situations.

FloodingGilmer County Schools have already issued a delay to school starting tomorrow, Friday, March 26, 2021.  According to the school system, “Storms overnight are expected to cause additional downed trees, power outages, and flooding.”

In the interest of safety, the schools have instituted a 2-hour-delay as of now. The statement said they will send out a text-blast to parents in the morning.

With the continuing rain forecasted well into the early hours of Friday, Gilmer County Public Safety released a statement on the river in Ellijay saying, “The United States Geological Survey is predicting the Coosawattee River to crest at 14.7′ around 7:00AM. That’s nearly 4′ above major flood level – and extremely…extremely dangerous. We cannot stress enough that no one should be driving through ANY flooded area. There are already hidden washouts, mudslides, stranded cars, roads and trees under water, and other dangers we do not even know of as yet.
Please, please stay at home Friday morning for a few hours. We will keep you informed about the conditions in the county as they change.”

Along with their statement comes reports of several places already under water or expected to be by morning including the Pilgrims’ Pride parking lot. The American Legion building is already flooded under several feet of water as is the Georgia Power Substation and Harold Hefner River Park.

Public Safety has also reported that State Highway 52 will be closing at 15 feet of flooding.

With plans in place for evacuations and recovery, Public Safety is working through the current storm alongside GEMA, the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Georgia, and local authorities.

A Tornado Watch has also been issued until 2 a.m.

According to the National Weather Service, “Expect minor damage to tree limbs and blowing around of light…unsecured objects. Heavy rain may cause temporary street flooding especially in poor drainage areas.”

Several people have already reported driveways washing out, culverts displacing, and roads submerged and uncrossable. Public Safety is responding and should be contacted in cases of emergency.

Voter turnout, debates, and Trump: David Perdue discusses all

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ELLIJAY, Ga: Senator David Perdue (R) addressed his relationship with President Trump, voter turnout, and not debating Jon Ossoff on his bus tour through North Georgia.

Citing the earlier debates, Perdue didn’t see the necessity in rehashing the issues. 

“I wanted to give him a chance to show Georgia what an empty suit he is,” Perdue explained, “How can someone lose a debate with himself? I mean, that is what we saw last night.”

The senator discussed his concerns about the “radical left agenda” moving forward if the Democrats win in January. 

“We’ve held the line on Iran, and by removing ourselves from that JCPOA nuclear deal, we’ve now put tremendous pressure on Iran. We’ve stood up to China. We’ve got our trade deals moving. These are the things we can protect and hold the line against the radical leftist agenda the Democrats have put forward,” Perdue remarked. 

He asserted the only way to protect the gains made is to “hold the line” against the Democrats. 

As for President Trump, he’s instructed Perdue and Senator Kelly Loeffler to win their races. 

“He has said ‘you’ve got to hold this Senate. We’ve got to win in January.’ He’s very disappointed that he hadn’t been able to get more of transparent accounting, if you will, of the signature absentee ballots, and so on and so forth,” Perdue stated. 

Perdue pointed out that Loeffler and himself called for the resignation of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger weeks ago. He asserted that Georgia never had election problems before 2019-2020, and the consent decree between Raffensperger, Attorney General Chris Carr, and Stacey Abrams created this situation. Perdue asked for a “specific accounting of absentee ballots, relative to the validity of the signatures and the number of ballots versus envelopes.” 

Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson introduced Senator David Perdue.

“We’re going to continue to make noise about,” Perdue affirmed. “If you look at the logic of saying ‘I’m upset about President Trump’s treatment or accounting of November 3, and therefore, I’m going to protest and not vote on January 5,’ what logic is that? That’s circular logic that basically gives the keys to the kingdom to the Democrats.”

Perdue will be in Union and Towns Counties on Tuesday, November 8. 

 

 

 

Early Voting gets massive first day in Gilmer

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the presidential election less than a month away, yesterday saw Gilmer County’s first day of early voting with lines stretching far out the door and down the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.

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Voters line the street on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, as Gilmer holds its first day of early voting for the Presidential Election.

According to Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins, the county saw a total of 470 people vote early on the first day.

This is no shock, however, as the Registrars Office also reported record breaking turnouts this year in the June elections. At the time, Registrar Sherri Jones said that Friday, June 5, 2020, the final day of early voting, was their busiest day of the entire cycle.

However, that busiest day ended with 161 voters casting their ballots. This Presidential Election is already shattering any expectations from citizens and authorities. The line stretched long well past noon yesterday, and was wrapping around the square today as citizens lined up in the opposite direction.

Early voting has also taken up extra space. The Board of Commissioners, amid budget meetings this week, held their meetings in the Jury Assembly Room. While most of their meetings are being held there currently, due to needs for Social Distancing amid the Coronavirus, they also said their conference room is being used by elections and office staff as the early voting machines are spreading out through the Registrar’s Office to supply enough machines for early voting while also maintaining the same Social Distancing guidelines.

voting

Gilmer’s new absentee ballot drop off waits for the cement to dry for its new location in the courthouse parking lot.

Citizens don’t seem to mind as some, who have never voted, are showing up for the first time ever. One person, who declined to give his name, said he searched and registered this year just to vote against those he saw as attacking the president and the current office.

Gilmer is also adding a new drop-off box this week for absentee ballots. Set in the parking lot of the courthouse, the new box is to be bolted into the ground allowing those dropping off ballots to not have to wait in line.

Watkins said in a meeting with the commissioners last week before early voting that absentee ballots could also be seeing minor issues with some as they originally request an absentee ballot or are on a rollover absentee list, but want to cancel their absentee ballot and vote in person.

Watkins explained that this happened in the last election as a large number of ballots request forms were sent out.

Additionally, if a request is marked with certain health or physical disabilities, these people can be put on a rollover list for absentee ballots as well.

voting

Gilmer’s early voting line stretched down the sidewalk and around the corner of the Courthouse’s parking lot to enter the Registrar’s Office to vote.

While not an issue to handle and fix, the massive turnout already seen will inflate problems in this election as staff are keeping up with the number of people while also dealing with the usual corrections and details that come normally with early voting.

With no clear number on the amount of absentees that could be since we are so early in the cycle, the first day of early voting nearly tripled the busiest day from the last election. As the campaigns continue and more people find time to go to the Gilmer County Courthouse, 1 Broad St., in Ellijay, the numbers are looking like they will only go up from here to shatter previous records in early voting for the county.

Collins responds to pro-Loeffler Super-PAC accusations

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Congressman Doug Collins visited Ellijay on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, for a Meet and Greet with citizens at the River Street Tavern. During the visit, he took a moment to react to allegations issued by the pro-Loeffler group GUV.

The candidate stopped for pictures and a short speech as the last stop in a day of similar events in the cities of Jasper and Resaca. In Ellijay, he told supporters that he wasn’t bothered by certain ads and increases in the campaign. He said he doesn’t have to buy a bunch of ads “swearing that I’m a conservative” because the people know who he is and his values.

The event saw the U.S. Senate candidate in the local restaurant, The River Street Tavern, with supporters and others looking to hear from him, along with local law enforcement, Republican Party representatives, Chairman Charlie Paris of the Board of Commissioners, and even Magistrate Judge Candidate Reagan Griggs Pritchett.

Collins touched on issues in his short speech including police support, buying the campaign, and the ads against him.

U.S. Senate Candidate, Doug Collins spoke about Defund the Police, President Trump, and opponent Senator Kelly Loeffler.

Collins said those running around saying to defund the police were disrespectful. Noting that he was a trooper’s kid, he said, “I want them to get themselves in a cop car somewhere, ride about a few nights, and do the job before they say anything else. Otherwise, shut up and start supporting our police.”

Collins added that “a bad officer needs to be gotten out immediately,” but said that charging a man with felony murder and not waiting for the GBI to do an investigation, not taking it before a Grand Jury, and then holding a press conference to make stuff up is wrong. Collins stated, “I’m going to stand and fight it every single time and call it what it is, and that is ‘wrong.'”

Collins also addressed several ads running against him. He pointed out one saying he was a lawyer, to which he replied that he believes in the entire constitution including the right to legal counsel and representation. Collins pointed out other ads by opponent Kelly Loeffler stating she is conservative, but he called it an “amazing, all-of-a-sudden decision by the Senator that she wanted to be perceived as conservative.” He asked where her voice and conservative values were in previous years over planned parenthood, the second amendment, and Black Lives Matter.

Collins also addressed the ads showing him and Stacy Abrams together saying that yes, he had a picture with her and they passed a continuation of the Hope Scholarship together saying, “I guess when you have enough money to go to school, you don’t have to worry about others being able to go to school, but we worked together to get that done.” He also added that he never hired Stacey Abrams as a lawyer for a basketball team or campaigned with her on the floor of the arena against Brian Kemp when he was running for Governor.

Collins

Collins held a Meet and Greet event in Ellijay later in the day as part of a three city tour in one day, after Jasper and Resaca.

Collins said we have to accomplish a few things in the coming elections. The first is to elect Donald Trump to four more years. The second is to re-elect David Perdue to keep the Senate Red. The third is to look at the ballot and look for one name in the Senate Race, Doug Collins.

Collins said that the Governor picked his choice, and “that was his one vote.” Now, the election has the people’s vote.

Collins and Loeffler will first appear on the ballot on November 3, along with other Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents for the senate seat.

FYN caught up with Collins for a moment after the event to ask about the campaign. Collins reiterated that his answer to the increase in ads and campaign funding was to be the man that the people know. He stated, “We don’t have to spend as much as she does.” as he said his campaign is going to continue the way it is going because the people know who he is and he doesn’t have to make up a campaign like she does.

When asked about campaigns from pro-Loeffler groups quoting Collins as saying Lobbyist are “essential” to the legislative process, Collins responded, “I think this is a sad, desperate attempt by an appointed Senator who has no record of her own.” He accused her of throwing the entire delegation under the bus as he asked, “Does Kelly say that she would vote against our agricultural needs and disaster relief in South Georgia?” and “Would she vote against the funding for our troops and funding for our cities and counties?”

Collins

Doug Collins, right, had several members of local politics to listen to his speech including Gilmer Republican Party Chairman Richie Stone, left.

He added, “They’re trying to make me out as something that most people know I am not… She is the one that is not a conservative and she is trying to cover up for it.”

Collins said he is looking forward to the office and he took this step into the campaign “because I believe that the Senate seat in Georgia needs somebody who actually knows how to fight. I believe they need somebody in this seat that actually knows how to get something done, who actually knows how to take the values of the State of Georgia, and take them all across the nation and knows that their is somebody that, without a doubt, has this Presidents back, and I will always have it as we go forward.”

Protesters rally in Ellijay over Black Lives Matter movement

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both protesters and police commented tonight with two words that many have not heard recently in news, a “peaceful protest” in Ellijay concluded despite rain and counter-protests in the area.

Authorities prepared after permits were approved yesterday, June 3, for a planned protest expecting 25 to 30 people in attendance. Even Eloisa Rafael, one of three students who were the organizers of the event along with Pedro Chavez and Nashely Hernandez, said that they were expecting around 25 people when they were planning and speaking with friends.

Instead, what the three students saw, were preliminary estimates closer to 200 people gathered in and around the roundabout in Downtown Ellijay with signs, speeches, and chants for support of the Black Lives Matter movements and for prominent names in both media and movements around the country.

All three of the organizers voiced their surprise and excitement at the larger turnout saying that they felt very encouraged by the level of community support in that way.

As protestors began the rally at 4:00 p.m., organizers called for peace and non-violence as they voiced opinions and chants, one man even stood to call for dialogue with police as he said that without dialogue, there can be no change. One of their first speakers, Pastor Robert Diaz, spoke a prayer over the gathering before offering words of encouragement for equality and rights saying, “We are going to make every effort, every day, to let our kids know, and our society know, that love shall prevail over hate, over discrimination, and whatever else.”

Diaz later said in an interview after the event that he was there to support the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “Obviously, all lives do matter, but in this instance, it is actually the black community that is actually more oppressed. We can see that all over, for decades… We are here as a nation, united, to raise our voice and to let the world know that this has to stop.”

Protesters continued under police supervision throughout their two-hour-long rally with speakers and representatives from the community including ministers and students who called for attention to social issues including the death of George Floyd and other media reports of police violence.

Protest organizer Nashely Hernandez said, “I helped organize this today because people need to stop being judge just because of the color of their skin.”

Others echoed the sentiment saying that the message of love and cooperation was central to what they wanted to convey. Local minister, Reverand Adam Bradley, of the Cherry Log Christian Church said, “Be Love” as he spoke to those gathered and offered his message of loving each other in the community.

After allowing certain community members to step forward to speak as well as prepared speakers, chants rang out through the downtown area as they continued their demonstration. Before long, a second group had formed on North Main Street counter-protesting the demonstration. Police stepped in to keep the groups separate, and while chants and rhetoric came from both sides, police and authorities maintained order in the separation of the groups throughout the rally’s length.

Police involvement stretched beyond one entity, however. The Ellijay Police Department lead permitting and planning for the event. However, authorities present at the event shared information that support and deputies came from all around the area as representatives of the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office and Fannin Sheriff’s Office along with other law enforcement officers from Whitfield and Cherokee Counties.

Protest organizer Pedro Chavez said, “We have had a good interaction with the police. We’ve had good communication. They understand what we’re here to do. They understand that we are here to protest peacefully… We appreciate their assistance, but we are here to protest against police brutality, against discrimination, against racism. But overall, we have had a good interaction with the police department.”

On the police side of the event, Ellijay Police Chief Edward Lacey said, “We couldn’t hope for a better event.”

He added that situations like today are always tense because of the unknown. But said, “The organizers were upfront with us and worked with us. That showed that they had a legitimate exercise of their first amendment rights.” As he addressed in an interview, one of the key points of the event was that the group pf protesters peacefully gathered and shared their message and peacefully left.

Those protesters pushed on despite counter-protests and even a bout of heavy rainfall, soaking many of those present as the stood in the center of the roundabout with only trees for cover. One protester repeatedly offered prayers throughout the event and continued his offerings through the same rainfall. He said he was protesting and stayed because “I think we all need to come together as a community, the police and the people, and put away the hate with love and prayer. Support Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter.”

Many others also offered support for both movements, including Karen Brown, who said, “There is no justice untill ALL God’s people are equal.”

Brown, a former teacher, referenced the “8 minutes 46 seconds,” a common reference to the death of George Floyd, as she too said that all lives do matter, but “right now the issue is black lives.”

As the rally concluded and protesters dispersed, many offered statements saying this is only the beginning and promises to each other that they would see them again soon. Eloisa Rafael also said she expects more, “I expect for this not to be the end of it. I expect for Ellijay to keep growing, keep changing, and understand that we are all equal.”

 

 

See more coverage on the event with FYN’s videos on our YouTube Channel, photos of the event on our Facebook Album, and coverage including interviews on our Livestream.

CORE receives grant and state office at ribbon-cutting

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.

Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.

Left to right, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, and Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones celebrate with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford at the CORE Facility ribbon-cutting in Ellijay, Georgia, on July 24, 2019.

However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.

That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.

While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”

Speaker of the House, David Ralston announces a $420,000 state grant for the CORE facility to applause from attendees at the ribbon-cutting on July 24, 2019.

Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic. both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”

Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.

Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”

Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.

The Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, was officially announced to open a North Georgia Office at Gilmer’s CORE facility during a ribbon-cutitng on July 24, 2019.

These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”

President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.

Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.

In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.

In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.

Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.

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Weather Summary for 2018

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Weather Summary for 2018

By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent

Back in December and already this year there’s been a lot of talk about how wet it’s been in the last year and while I agree with the comments I’ve been getting, I thought I’d do a little investigating and use facts to report on the weather of 2018. My data is coming from the UGA AEMN area weather stations.

The Automated Environmental Monitoring Network (AEMN) in Georgia was established in 1991 by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The objective of the AEMN is to collect reliable weather information for agricultural and environmental applications. Each station monitors air temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, solar radiation, wind speed, wind direction, soil temperature at 2, 4, and 8 inch depths, atmospheric pressure, and soil moisture every 1 second. Data are summarized at 15 minute intervals and at midnight a daily summary is calculated. A microcomputer at the Georgia Experiment Station initiates telephone calls to each station periodically and downloads the recorded data. The data are processed immediately and disseminated via the internet at www.weather.uga.edu.

We are fortunate to have three reporting stations in our area. They are Hillcrest Orchards in Ellijay, Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge and the Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center in Blairsville. For the purpose of this article, data has been averaged, but you can visit the web site and get more details and up to the minute weather.

Since rain has been the topic of conversation lately, let’s look at that first. In Blairsville, the total rainfall for 2018 was 76.01 inches and there were 164 rainy days. In Blue Ridge, the rainfall was 74.89 inches and 185 rainy days. In Ellijay there was 79.12 inches of rain and 168 rainy days. The average for our area is around 62 inches, but the statistic that stands out is the number of rainy days. During rainy days the plants did not receive good sunlight and that affects plant growth.

In looking at the month of December in 2018 Blairsville received 10.96 inches of rain and 17 rainy days. Blue Ridge received 11.21 inches of rain and 17 rainy days. Ellijay received 10.92 inches of rain and 17 rainy days. This may seem like a lot of rain, but back in 2015 Blairsville got 13.35 inches of rain with 13 rainy days. Blue Ridge got 16.57 inches of rain with 16 rainy days. Ellijay got 16.04 inches of rain with 17 rainy days. 2015 was not that long ago, but it seems we have gotten more rain lately. It might be the number of rainy days that is making us think we are getting more rain that we actually are getting.

As for temperatures the average maximum temperature in Blairsville was 68.53 and the minimum was 47.26. The overall average was 57.23 which is about normal, but the number of days below 32 was 761 which is up from before, but below 2015. In Blue Ridge the average maximum temperature was 68.12 and the minimum was 48.46 and the overall average was 57.59, which is also about normal. The number of days below 32 was 699 which is up from before, but also below 2015. In Ellijay the average maximum temperature was 69.17 and the minimum was 48.81 with an overall average of 58.48 which is about normal. The number of days below 32 was 625 which is above earlier years except for 2015.

In conclusion the UGA weather stations are a great resource for information that provide facts about our weather conditions and now when people ask if it’s ever been this wet, you have the facts to say yes. If you need more information or different facts, visit the website and explore, or contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.

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