City DopeNews

New Commissioners Tackle Sidewalks, Recycling, Broadband, Airline Service

Newly elected Athens-Clarke County commissioners Melissa Link, Sharyn Dickerson and Diane Bell participated in their first work session Tuesday, Jan. 14. Link pushed for less talking and more doing. “We need to actually put our plans into action, sooner rather than later,” she said. 

Several other commissioners chimed in and voiced their sentiments about the lack of activity over the past year. They jumped on Link’s bandwagon and requested alternative strategies to expedite goals approved last March. 

Commissioners Jerry NeSmith and Allison Wright encouraged paving sidewalks along one side of Athens’ many sidewalk-less roads to quickly improve pedestrian safety. “We could go back and fill in the other side later,” NeSmith said. “It’s just important that we provide walking accessibility to as many parts of Athens as quickly as possible.” 

After jokingly accusing NeSmith of “stealing her idea,” Wright added, “Right now there are lots of beaten paths with no sidewalks. Instead of waiting to raise enough money to get sidewalks on both sides, we should add sidewalks on at least one side of the street so people can walk safely.” 

Dickerson, the new District 1 commissioner, said rural parts of Athens lack sufficient broadband Internet access. “When I’m at home, I can barely load a webpage, and students in my district can’t log on to do their homework,” said Dickerson. “And that’s a problem.”

While other commissioners failed to see the economic incentive in broadband expansion, NeSmith stressed the need for reliable Internet service to attract business developers and support education. “Nobody makes money off of sewers, but we’ve got to have them.” NeSmith said. 

Link advocated investing in solar panel-powered buildings downtown to offset the city’s 4 percent increase in energy costs. She fired off bursts of sustainable suggestions—including electric city buses, building more bike lanes and sidewalks, a tax on plastic bags and a survey of current sewage systems that haven’t been reviewed in years. 

Continuing the support for sustainability, commissioners responded enthusiastically to the proposed Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM). The center, which will be located at the old landfill off College Avenue, will provide a one-stop drop for items that can’t be recycled at other drop-off sites, like mattresses, batteries and tires.

But the CHaRM is $250,000 over the SPLOST 2011 budget, according to Suki Janssen, project coordinator. She hopes to see the center built by this time next year, assuming the project receives additional funding. 

Commissioners also talked about building a new commercial airport terminal, which has been in the works since 2005. The SPLOST-funded project would add an 18,500-square-foot commercial terminal along Lexington Highway property that was purchased with SPLOST funds back in 2000. Athens-Ben Epps airport lost a federal subsidy for airline service, and thus its airline, last year, and commissioners hope the terminal could lure another commercial airline or two. However, they fear the high-risk project could result in a worthless drain of public resources.

At the end of the meeting, Link encouraged more citizens to attend work session meetings, as they are where “most of the decisions are made.” Unlike voting and agenda-setting meetings, they are not televised, and no minutes are kept.