Leaders Discuss Politics Over Pastries

State Sen. John Wilkinson speaks while State Rep. Dan Gasaway looks on at Friday’s “Politics and Pastries” event in Toccoa

Local leaders talk water, Wilbros, and more with state legislators during a Chamber of Commerce event Friday.

The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce hosted its “Politics and Pastries” post-legislative session wrap-up Friday morning at the Mitchell Allen Meeting Room in downtown Toccoa. Both 50th District State Senator John Wilkinson and 28th District State Representative Dan Gasaway attended the event.

One of the first topics that came up was water and Lake Hartwell.

Both Gasaway and Wilkinson are members of a Savannah River Caucus of state lawmakers.Recently, that caucus traveled to South Carolina to meet with lawmakers on the other side of the river. Both men say the meeting went well.

Wilkinson said the matter of lake levels is a complicated one, however, because of all the different issues at play.

“You get up here around Anderson and Toccoa and we have a lot of common interests,” said Wilkinson. “The further south you go on the Savannah River, the more contention there is, when you get closer to the port of Savannah.”

Gasaway agreed and said the lawmakers are still at the beginning of what will be a detailed process.

“That is what we are in the process of doing is evaluating what the Corps says and measuring it and seeing if we can find a solution that works for everybody,” said Gasaway. “It is not easy. There are a lot of complicated issues. It is very rarely black and white, but we know a lake being 15 feet down is not in our economic best interest and that is black and white.”

The discussion then moved to Wilbros. Local leaders thanked the two state legislators for opposing language that would have changed the definition of composting.

Both Gasaway and Wilkinson say they remain focused on the Wilbros issue.

Wilkinson said he has met with state officials on multiple occasions, including Georgia Environmental Protection Division Judson Turner.

“I said (to Turner) that the perception in Stephens County is whatever the court orders, they (Wilbros) always get an extension, they always make an exception, and they can do whatever they want to without any consequences,” said Wilkinson. “I told (Turner) I think if you just shut them down until they get those improvements made, that would give them an incentive to get it done a little quicker. That is what I have communicated. Again, I have my grandchildren over there. I do not want you to think it is a big deal. You think I like them going over there every day and dealing with that?”

Meanwhile, Gasaway said the state needs to consider looking at the entire industry, noting Wilbros is not the only such facility in the country.

“If we are in the same place as we are now four or five months from now, I am probably going to start working on some specific legislation dealing with these types of industries in our state,” said Gasaway. “We need to put some specifics in place dealing with this type of industry.”

The two men also touched a number of other issues, including state revenues and ethics reform.

The Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee sponsored Friday’s event.

Government Affairs Committee Chairman Brian Akin said he was pleased with how it went.

“I thought it went really well,” said Akin. “We had some really good questions from the audience that was here and I thought they did a good job of addressing those issues.”

Representatives for 9th District U.S. Representative Doug Collins and U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss also attended and spoke on current events in Washington, D.C.