October 15, 2019

Fighting for ‘peace in the valley’

            Because the bones of my skinny behind were crunching on the heart-pine pews of Pilgrims Home Primitive Baptist Church, I couldn’t really appreciate the lyrics of “Peace in the Valley.”  What my 8-year-old mind wanted was to escape that Baker County sweatbox, before I was parched like the peanuts stacked on a pole in my grandmother’s field.  It was hot, almost as hot as the fire and brimstone being hurled by Brother Cattret from the pulpit.
            My DNA is country-fried.  I love living on a farm.  But praise the Lord for modernization.  Air conditioning is a blessing.  However—when the first cool snap arrives—I like to raise a window and let in some of God’s air conditioning.  Such a simple thing is easy to take for granted.
            But on Oct. 7, I met a throng of folks who aren’t taking fresh air for granted.  Sardined into the county’s meeting hall, the Oglethorpe County residents—despite air conditioning—had steam billowing from their ears. Raised windows aren’t an option for them. These folks can’t walk outside without gagging. Their “peace in the valley” has been robbed. 
Foul-smelling industrial sludge and who-knows-what-else had been dumped near their homes.  Nausea and headaches were common complaints.  Their quality of life had been destroyed by out-of-county companies wanting to get rid of noxious materials, which those businesses wanted away from their noses, their groundwater and their streams. 
Why would this even be allowed?
Follow the money, and you’ll see the reason and the complexity of the issue.  Loosely written Georgia soil-amendment laws have large-enough loopholes for 18-wheelers to drive through.  And they do, pulling tankers filled with nasty stuff.  Farmers are told the vile material will improve their soil, plus—sometimes—there’s a check attached to each load. 

The typical farmer needs help.  I get that.  I am married to a farmer’s daughter.  But as they say: “There’s no right way to do a wrong thing.”   There’s nothing right about solving one problem by creating another.  We aren’t talking about chicken litter. 
Stephens County went through an awful spate of stench and sued the culprit.  The case was settled.  The dumping stopped.  Wilkes County has been dumped on, too.  Elbert County citizens have been holding their noses while battling to stop the stinky invasion of “food production waste.”
 But it doesn’t stop there. When the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) made a surprise visit to an Elbert farm, it discovered “sludge in the earthen pit was adulterated.”  Some of that “adulteration” was plastic tampon applicators, condoms, plastic bottle caps, candy wrappers and other assorted items.  I’m for farmers, but how can you be for this?  The Georgia Department of Agriculture is reviewing and tweaking its rules to hopefully close the loopholes. 
The Oglethorpe commissioners are mostly farmers, but they didn’t hesitate to fight back when a trio of waste-hauling companies sued the county and them individually.  The five officials stood by their decision to enforce a zoning ordinance which prohibits this type of dumping.  Their hot-under-the-collar constituents got some relief, watching the board vote, 5-0, to defend their quality of life.
Georgia is a Right to Farm state.  Agriculture is our biggest industry, and I’m proud of that.  And if you choose to move adjacent to or near an existing hog, cattle or poultry operation, you shouldn’t be surprised about the smells.  But if you live in the country and one day a big-rig tanker shows up next door to unload putrid, potentially polluting and mystery gunk—in the name of fertilizer—you should have a right to protest.
Who knows what the court will decide? 
But on Oct. 7, I witnessed the consensus of the court of public opinion.  If you want “peace in the valley,” you must be willing to fight to protect that peace and quality of life.     


October 8, 2019

Our veins pump ink for you

            The rule was the same for Alan, Emily and Eric. When their noses inched above the mailroom’s table—so they could see what they were doing—they went to work. That meant by age 8, they got ink into their veins through their fingertips by inserting sections of The Press-Sentinel.
            When Eric heard me tell that story, he countered, “Remember? I couldn’t wait until I was 8. When I was 7, you got a Coca-Cola crate for me to stand on.” He’s right. And 33 years later for him and 38 years later for Alan, they’re still doing what the three of us love—publishing newspapers. Emily could be with us, too, but she was called to be a schoolteacher and mother of four boys, ages 5-15.
            My first touch of ink came as a 10-year-old in 1958. When Orange Street Elementary School’s 3-o’clock bell rang, I’d jump on my bike and race toward South East Broad Street. After bumping across the railroad tracks, I wheeled left to The Jesup Sentinel’s back door.
When Bryan Kirby sold me a stack of the weekly edition, I pumped my Schwinn to the Sea Island Shirt Factory on Cherry Street. As the ladies left work, I turned my nickels into dimes before the ink dried on that edition of my hometown’s news. In 1971—after UGA and a brief stint in the Army—I started my adult career at the Wayne County Press.
Forty-eight years later, the ink still flows through my veins.
Times have changed, but not my passion for a community newspaper’s role.
I smile when Alan steps on his soapbox: “We’re not the ‘media.’ We’re your hometown newspaper. We live here. We work here. We vote here. We pay taxes here. We go to church here. We volunteer here. We are devoted to this community. The state and national ‘media’ doesn’t do the things we do. And our door is always open. Try sitting down and talking with those ‘media’ people. We are your hometown newspaper. We are your best source of reliable information. We are your cheerleader, and we’re your watchdog. In most towns, we’re probably the oldest, continually operated business.”

Alan is right. We don’t just show up to cover sensational stories. We’re here 365 days a year. We care about your children and the sweet potato that you plucked from your garden, the one that resembles comedian Bob Hope and his ski-jump nose. We care about the city-hall and courthouse sausage works. Why are your taxes going up? And if your government is operating behind closed doors, we want to beam sunshine into those dark corners.
Research documents prove that local governments pay higher bond rates when there is no local newspaper holding leadership accountable. Devoted men and women do the heavy lifting of making local governments function properly. Your newspaper’s job is holding up a mirror to reflect the good and bad of what’s happening.
There’s a lot of yip-yap about “fake news” in the “media.” Alan is right. We aren’t “the media.” We are your hometown newspaper. Just as you do, we despise fake news. If we get our facts wrong, we are eager to make corrections. We encourage you to hold officials and us to a high standard of credibility. News is separate from editorial-page opinions. We aren’t bashful about “pumping iron” with our ink, speaking up on issues. We covet your opinions, too. Write us a letter.
We treasure your support and trust.
And our business is for you to know.