Video: Project Max rezoning public hearing @ LCC 2016-01-12

The secretive Project Max container company better not be like when the Industrial Authority bragged about a prospect that would bring in 300 clean jobs and it turned out to be a private prison, which fortunately (after much public opposition) never happened. At last Tuesday’s Lowndes County Commissioner Regular Session, nearby landowner Mike Paine said he is afraid of many things, because it’s a rush job and nobody has told him anything concrete. The Industrial Authority, now called the Development Authority, says we should trust them. It would help if they wouldn’t say things like no emissions but steam, when burning natural gas produces CO2, and if they would admit that methane often leaks, and then it’s a far worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

5.a. REZ-2016-01 Project Max, Rocky Ford Rd, E-A to M-2 123 acres

Video. About the public hearing for rezoning from Estate Agricultural (E-A) to heavy-duty manufacturing (M-2) for the hush-hush Project Max, the big-fish container manufacturing plant proposed for Rocky Ford Road, next to the protected watershed of Mud Swamp and near Valdosta Airport, see separate post for what little the public (or the Planning Commission) is allowed to know.

Citizen Mike Paine said he owned a little over 20 acres in one tract about a mile and a half from the proposed rezoning; presumably that’s Parcel 0060 002 farther south on Rocky Ford Road, also on the east side of the road backing up against Mud Swamp, like the subject property. He said he was opposed to the rezoning for two reasons:

  1. “I’m afraid there has not enough time to look into this, “for example, I got a letter on New Year’s Eve, which was a Friday… [actually a notice of a certified letter]. It was too late to go to the post office to get the letter… so I got the letter on Monday, looked at it, and had no idea what was going on; absolutely no idea. My family has owned property out there for 140 years, and I’m afraid of pollution, I’m afraid of increased traffic, I’m afraid of a lot of things that’s going to spoil a lot of property that’s just sitting there.”
  2. “When you have to make a big decision about money, those of us who work for a living, we can’t just go down and buy a car, or we want to buy an automobile or whatever, we have to think about it; we have to see if we can get financing and things like this. In my opinion this thing was just thrown on people. And we have a stake out there. It was thrown on us without anybody knowing it. It’s just scary. There was one person at the meeting last Tuesday night who said do we trust these people, do we know who they are? And we don’t! To close, just think about what Ronald Reagan said: trust, but be sure to verify.”

The previous Tuesday’s meeting was the Special Called meeting of the Greater Lowndes Planning Commission (GLPC), at which Commissioner Ted Raker said it would be a whole lot easier to make these kinds of decisions if the Planning Commission wasn’t being asked to just “trust us”. He said even if the Commissioners had to sign confidentiality agreements, the whole process would run a lot smoother.

Speaking for the rezoning at the Lowndes County Commission Regular Session was Andrea Schruijer, Executive Director of the Development Authority, who basically repeated the same things she said at the previous Tuesday’s GLPC Special Called Meeting, and County Planner Jason Davenport repeated at the Monday morning Lowndes County Commission Work Session, that it was a rush request to try to land a container company. She didn’t really explain why that business’s demands (I-75, rail, natural gas for boilers, yet clean air) outweighed local landowners’ need to know. She claimed again many jobs paying more than average and no particulate emissions.

Commissioner Demarcus Marshall thanked her, since citizens are always asking where are the jobs, and it’s the Development Authority’s job to find them, but he wanted to know whether no conditions would help them do their job. She said she supports both conditions.

The conditions are in the agenda item from the Work Session, but the Chairman clarified that Commissioners also had another version that had been reworded by the county attorney.

Commissioner Mark Wisenbaker wanted to know, following up on Mr. Paine’s questions, about emissions and traffic. Schruijer said the only emissions would be steam, with no particulate matter. She didn’t mention that if they’re burning methane, that produces carbon dioxide. She said the traffic would be 200 employees coming in and out of work, plus some trucks inbound for raw materials, with the resulting product going out by rail.

Commissioner Marshall wanted confirmation that the Development Authority would be purchasing the property first. She said yes.

Also speaking for was Jeff Lovell, Development Authority Engineer, who also said pretty much what he said in the GLPC meeting, plus “natural gas is one of the cleanest fuels that you can burn” and they would adopt federal standards. I should hope so, those being the law and all. However, natural gas still He said the company liked seeing solar power around about. Also they would not use much water beyond

Jerome Tucker, 593 Jumping Gulley Road, said he had spent a good part of his life out there working at Griffin Corporation, and had seen up to 700 people on that access road. He said the road infrastructure was much improved now from back then 30 years ago, so he didn’t see traffic as a problem. And for manufacturing, he sees this company as clean as any could be, “and again, 200 jobs”. Sounds like he knows something about the prospective company, which is conceivable because he’s a former Industrial Authority Chair, and he’s been to almost every one of their meetings in recent months.

Tom Call, 1108 Gornto Road, Chairman of the Development Authority, once again (like at the GLPC meeting) claimed to represent all citizens of Lowndes County, and spoke for the project. He said in response to Mr. Paine’s comments that he, Tom Call, had verified that this prospect would be “a tremendous asset to our community” in jobs and “corporate synergy”. Translation: it could help attract more businesses. It’s worth remembering Tom Call was not exactly vocal against the private prison. So let’s hope this time he really has verified.

Commissioner Wisenbaker wanted to know timeline for groundbreaking. Call said the prospect needs to be open and operational 1 October 2017.

Chairman Slaughter wanted to know if Call was OK with the rewritten conditions. He said if the version he last saw was the final version, yes. Why was there any question as to which is the final version?

It’s also worth remembering the Development Authority still goes to a lot of trouble to groom business parks, including paying most of their 1 mil of property taxes to service the bond debt for those parks. Yet his biggest fish they’ve had on the line for a long time didn’t find any of those business parks acceptable. Maybe they should change their strategy. Hm, how about put solar panels on those parks, or sell off some of them and use the proceeds to fund solar panels elsewhere in town.

Commissioner Clay Griner made a motion for approval of the rezoning with only one condition; the one about use restricted to just the stated purpose of the company. Commissioner Marshall seconded, and they voted for it.

So it passed with the one condition, which was basically condition 1. They did not pass condition 2, which would have made the rezoning effective upon transfer of the property to the Development Authority. So now that land is zoned M-2 regardless of who owns it.

Here’s the video:

Video: Project Max rezoning public hearing
Regular Session, Lowndes County Commission (LCC),
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE),
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 12 January 2016.