Five Georgia counties joined forces Monday to promote tourism and economic development using Clarks Hill Lake as a primary draw, but Augusta-Richmond County wasn't among them.
Representatives from five counties were on hand to participate in the Clarks Hill Partnership program, in which the counties work together to promote the region. The five county commission chairmen are: Ron Cross, of Columbia County (from left); Walker Norman, of Lincoln County; Charlie Newton, of McDuffie County; John Graham, of Warren County; and Sam Moore, of Wilkes County. The five-year agreement allows the counties to pool their resources, and Thurmond Lake is the key to the deal.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The five-year agreement, called the Clarks Hill Partnership, will enable Columbia, McDuffie, Lincoln, Wilkes and Warren counties to pool their resources for mutual benefit, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
"This is a historical day, but it will lead to many historic things in the future that will outshadow this event," he told officials from participating counties.
The agreement calls for a steering committee comprised of two representatives from each county who will meet quarterly to tackle major projects with a regional - rather than a fragmented or local - approach.
The counties hope to use Clarks Hill Lake to promote tourism, attract new industries and seek out available grants for projects that will improve quality of life throughout the region, said Walker Norman, the chairman of Lincoln County's Board of Commissioners.
"There are two things, in particular, that we want to address," Norman said.
One major project involves a proposed $43 million resort near the lake in Lincoln County, and the other involves getting funds needed to complete major road expansions.
"We need Washington Road four-laned at least to the county line," he said. "And we need Highway 43 four-laned from the county line to Thomson."
The partnership was conceived with the idea that each county has attributes that can benefit the region.
Thomson-McDuffie County, for example, has a regional airport that can be expanded to accommodate larger aircraft and help promote tourism.
Columbia County, with a growing population and huge budget, has bulk purchasing power. Lincoln County has vast tracts of undeveloped land along the lake, and Wilkes County has a hospital.
"Things like tourism advertising, for example, could improve because we could pool our resources and buy bigger ads," said Columbia County Administrator Steve Szablewski, a member of the steering committee.
Columbia County's relationship with the other counties began to grow after a plan called the Augusta Regional Partnership, which involved Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties, was rejected by Richmond County.
Despite Augusta's absence Monday, State Sen. Jim Whitehead - who helped the five counties establish the partnership - said the regional concept has great potential.
"I've had two other counties wanting to talk to us," he said. "And none of them are east of here."
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