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Twelve Stories High and Four 747’s Wide: Proposed Gash in Mountain for Connector

July 10, 2010 | Georgia

A Georgia city council voted to acquire a 100.5 acre conservation easement and designate the property as a significant wildlife refuge to preserve some of the last habitat of the threatened Cherokee Darter and a local mountain landmark that would be destroyed by a proposed highway project.


Georgia Department of Transportation plans call for an 800-foot wide, 125-foot deep gash to be blasted through Dobbins Mountain, the location of the conservation easement.  The proposed mountain cut is tall enough to hold a 12-story building and wide enough to comfortably fit four 747 jet planes sitting wingtip to wingtip.  The DOT's chosen route also crosses several creeks in the Etowah River basin and would further jeopardize the threatened Cherokee Darter.

Anyone who has suffered through stop-and-go traffic on the winding road between Rome and I-75 in Bartow County knows that a highway bypass is long overdue.  The Georgia DOT is moving ahead with plans to build a bypass, but the specific route would cause environmental damage, waste millions of taxpayer dollars, and take much longer to construct compared to other viable options, according to the Georgia Conservancy.

Dobbins Mountain is a Bartow County landmark that soars more than 1,000 feet high. The preferred DOT route doesn't go around this formidable obstacle. It barrels right through it.

Compared to other alternatives, the DOT's favored route is 2.5 miles longer and requires the construction of seven more bridges and overpasses. In all, the cost difference runs about $80 million-- a stunning figure given the DOT's well-documented budget woes. The DOT has explored a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly option (known as "Route G") only to reject this approach in favor of a path through Dobbins Mountain ("Route D").

"There's a cheaper, more environmentally friendly way to build a road than to blast through Dobbins Mountain," says Pierre Howard, president of the Georgia Conservancy. "The proposed route was a bad idea years ago, and it's a bad idea now. It is unfair to taxpayers to build the most expensive route that also does the most environmental damage."  For a comparison of the two routes, click here.

The City of Euharlee took control of a key piece of the planned route through Dobbins Mountain in Bartow County.  The Council voted to accept a perpetual conservation easement offered by the landowners, and the documents, which create the wildlife refuge, were filed the next day.   A letter to the state from a high-powered Atlanta legal firm followed, saying that because the City of Euharlee designated the 100-acre tract as a “significant wildlife refuge,” it should receive Section 4(f) protection from development.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 prevents DOT agencies from approving the use of public parks, recreational areas, wildlife refuges or historical sites unless there is no “feasible and prudent” alternative.

Euharlee City Manager Trish Sullivan said the City Council was moved by a May presentation at the Rollins family’s Carters¬ville Ranch that highlighted the natural habitat and other resources.  The easement will enhance downstream water quality and will protect headwater tributaries that support stream habitats of the Cherokee Darter.  The easement also preserves 100 contiguous acres of hardwood forest from encroaching metro development.  That acreage is of sufficient size to protect sensitive species and to act as an important wildlife corridor.

“This is a significant and permanent conservation easement," said Euharlee City Manager Trish Sullivan. "Our city council is working proactively to avoid development of environmentally sensitive land resources and to preserve irreplaceable wildlife habitat in our part of Georgia.”

“We are particularly interested in greenspace and preservation,” Sullivan said. “How it affects the connector is not our decision to make.”

The Georgia Conservancy understands the need to invest in transportation infrastructure to ease traffic congestion in Bartow County and to better serve the Rome area. However, the rush to build the wrong road would come at far too great an expense.

Despite the City’s designation of the conservation easement as a significant wildlife refuge, the DOT still wants to condemn the easement land.  As for the automatic federal protections that fall to a wildlife refuge, the DOT project manager was quoted as saying that you cannot manufacture a refuge just to stop a road and “Federal Highway is going to fight that fight in court.”  The landowners and the City of Euharlee need help to fight DOT’s plans to condemn the easement property for road construction.  For more information, please contact the individuals listed below.

The Georgia Conservancy has joined an effort to fight the DOT proposal. A group of concerned citizens known as the Coalition for the Right Road also is blogging about the issue at http://therightroad.wordpress.com/

The 7.3-mile limited access connector is aimed at providing a direct link from Rome to Interstate 75 and easing congestion on U.S. 41 in Cartersville. The route cleared a regulatory hurdle last year, but the proposed interchange at I-75 could open the door to reconsideration.

The Sutherland law firm (Henry Parkman and Lee Davis specifically) have been retained to fight the road and to protect the critical mountain landmark and wildlife habitat.

Read more: RN-T.com - Euharlee seeks to preserve land on 411 Connector route
See (https://www.georgiaconservancy.org/index.php?page=411-connector)
See also:  (http://www.gpb.org/news/2010/06/18/city-protects-land-from-road-project)

For more information:

Chip Stewart
Senior Vice President
Cookerly Public Relations One Alliance Center
3500 Lenox Road, Suite 510
Atlanta, GA  30326
Phone: (404) 816-2037
chip@cookerly.com

Paul Donsky
Georgia Conservancy
817 West Peachtree Street, Suite 200
Atlanta, Ga. 30308
phone: (404) 876-2900
fax: (404) 872-9229
pdonsky@gaconservancy.org

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