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Wetlands mitigation, species survey to take place
Development Authority looks into environmental work for Industrial Centre sites
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The Interstate Centre is looking to have some environmental work done, including a survey for threatened and endangered species and potential mitigation of the site’s wetlands. The issues were discussed at the Development Authority’s recent meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17.

When the first threatened and endangered survey was done at the original Industrial Centre, gopher tortoises and indigo snakes were found on the site. After prospective companies asked about a survey for Centre II, Director Jean Bacon said it is important to get it done. She has already talked to EMC, who did the first survey. She told the board she will look at some other companies in comparison to EMC for the survey’s cost, estimated at roughly $38,000.

"The idea is that they find the gophers in the burrows. But in all our trips over there, we haven’t seen any," Bacon said. "Once you find the gophers, it costs about $2,500 to move them and then you also, on top of that, have to pay $150 for a physical for each tortoise."

The gopher tortoise is protected in the state of Georgia and is considered a keystone species for its habitat, according to The tortoise can burrow up to 10 feet deep and 40 feet diagonally, providing an insulated refuge for the tortoise – as well as 358 other species that can cohabitate in the burrows. Habitat destruction and/or degradation have reduced the numbers of this particular amphibian by an estimated 80 percent over the last 100 years.

The indigo snake lives only in the southeastern U.S. and uses gopher tortoise burrows as shelter during the winter and during the warmer months for nesting and as an escape from intense heat. The species is federally threatened in Georgia and Florida, mostly due to habitat loss, according to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory through the University of Georgia.

The board unanimously gave Bacon the go ahead to get the survey done.

Centre III has roughly 142 acres of land within it and the Development Authority estimates about 25 acres in the site are wetlands. Bacon raised the topic of mitigating those areas, which would make all the land usable.

Mitigation banks are wetland areas that have been restored, established, enhanced or preserved for the purpose of providing compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The banks are considered better ecological solutions and provide a more focused approach. Credits are issued for the wetlands when a landowner or developer needs to substitute habitats for those being lost to development. In this case, each credit will run $2,500 and Bacon has been given an estimate that four credits will be necessary per acre of wetland. She said she has talked with EMC Engineering about getting involved and will talk to Planning and Zoning Director Dale Dudley about the best route to take on the project.

Attempts to reach Dudley on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

In other business:

- The DA had a good year, according to Bacon. "We had 14 state and utility projects and we had 9 realtors or brokers who came to us, and about 12 local businesses or businesses in general that contacted us directly. We had 35 projects that we’ve really worked hard with during this past year. When those state projects come in, it doesn’t sound like a lot here but those are so time consuming. They require a lot of research and putting packets together and working with the project managers, it’s very, very time consuming,’" she said. "But we’ve had some great opportunities and we’re on the short list. Everyone who comes is very pleased with what we see and the state of Georgia is proud to show off what we have to offer."

- One of the Oneida building purchasers has asked for a ground lease estoppel and an Interstate Center association estoppel in order to ensure they aren’t purchasing any liabilities with the building.

- Building on the Gardner site is still pending the removal of the site’s current home, which is up for grabs for anyone who wants to pay to move the home. Gwen Strickland said there’s only been ‘one bite’ so far, from a Richmond Hill resident.

- Roadway extensions in the Interstate Centre have continued with plans to move forward. The board unanimously approved the design format Bacon presented and she will take the next step in getting the surveys done.

- In the construction committee report, Tyson is ahead of schedule and already installing storm water pipes and ditches along the interstate. The state is expected to come through with funding for turning lanes in July, so the board decided to allow construction up to the right-of-way.

"Overall, this project is going really well, we don’t see any problems," Ted Akins said.

- The board deliberated over Interstate Centre III’s road plan, despite having already previously approved a design. County Commissioner Ed Bacon said they didn’t want to create roads in places where they could be selling land. The board decided to stick with the plan they have already approved, but also look into all the suggestions Bacon brought up as future road plans.

- The official grand opening of the Interstate Centre has begun being planned by Linda Barker and Steve Croy. They are estimating roughly 250 local and state attendees, including government, military, brokers, property owners, bankers and surrounding development authorities. The event is slated for April 17.

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