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Local athlete catches prez pitch; stormwater suit runs into fed ditch

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2001

Securely in the category of Things We Havent Made a Big Enough Deal Of is the scene Tuesday night of the president of the United States throwing a baseball to a bona fide Columbia County boy.

Heres how the Associated Press described President Bushs opening pitch of Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks: With a quick windup, (Bush) threw the ball just off the center of the plate - a strike - to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene, and walked off the mound to chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A.

Todd Greene! The incredibly talented athlete who once wore the uniform of Evans High baseball, now wearing the usually hated Yankee pinstripes, catching a ball thrown by the president. There he was, on national television - live and in replays - handing the ball back to GW and walking off the field with him. Awesome; hometown boy does good.

Too bad hes not playing for the Braves - though if he were, hed have been watching the pitch on TV instead of catching it at Yankee Stadium.

But Greenes time behind the plate isnt the only thing that hasnt gotten enough attention in the last couple of weeks. Lets catch up on a few:

Making a federal case of it

While it may seem like there is nothing happening with the lawsuit filed against Columbia County over the stormwater utility fee, the issue is a beehive of activity.

For lawyers, anyway.

Through a handful of motions and counter-motions, the suit has been yanked from state court, where it initially was filed, and taken to federal court, thanks to efforts of the countys attorneys. The complaint raises federal issues and thus belongs in federal court, says Commission Chairman Barry Fleming - who also acknowledges that the countys attorneys believe the case would be easier to win in federal court.

Attorney Jack Long, who is handling the case for five Columbia County landowners, counters: Our position is that this fee is in fact a tax that is not uniform and has been imposed upon a district contrary to the expressed provision of the Georgia Constitution. Columbia County obviously believes that this issue should be decided by the federal courts, not by the state courts - a position with which we strongly disagree.

Meanwhile, Martinez resident Bob Cipperly continues to watchdog non-payment of the fee, and notes that the Columbia County school system - at nearly $30,000 in the hole - continues to be the biggest non-payer.

Big or small, county officials havent yet tried to force anyone to pay the fee. Some sources say the school system and the county are close to making a deal in which the schools would charge the county for after-hours use of school fields and recreation facilities, and the fees would magically equal the amount of the school systems rain tax.

It should have been cows

The issue of regulating horse ownership in Columbia County is now settled, with the recent approval of a weak compromise that limits horses to property 1 acre or larger and restricts the location of barns and stables.

Horse owners are generally happy with the final zoning rules, which are far less strict than the initial proposal. But now that the feedlot dust has settled, some issues need to be clarified.

First, many horse owners got the incredibly wrong idea that this issue arose when new residents moved to Columbia County and didnt like having horses as neighbors. The exact opposite is true: The new regulations actually came up because a horse owner moved into an existing neighborhood and caused a stink - literally - with the people who already lived there.

Then, when new Planning Director Jeff Browning said the countys laws prevented him from arbitrating the dispute, the aggrieved homeowners came to the County Commission for relief. A 1-acre minimum lot size is the final result - and actually does nothing to solve the original dispute, as all current horse facilities are grandfathered in!

Its too bad horses were involved at all. The rules, referring to zoning or public health, regard not just horses, but livestock - which includes goats, cows and all farm animals. It would have been far easier to reach a consensus if the dispute involved, say, a herd of cattle being kept in a subdivision.

Such a disagreement would have kept the issue from being polarized as a pro-horse vs. anti-horse battle, and may helped some critics to better understand what all the stink was about.

A friend departs

Were sad to note the passing after an extended illness of Sandra Chambers of Leah, mother of cartoonist Skeet Chambers and a devoted News-Times reader. She was a sweet, bright lady, and well certainly miss her.

(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)



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