CHIPLEY — Newly elected County Commissioner Alan Bush was sworn into office Tuesday, then less than 10 minutes later he was named chairman of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners.
The board met Tuesday to swear in two new commissioners, Bush and Lynn Gothard, and to re-swear in Charles Brock, who was re-elected to office when he won a narrow 48-point victory over challenger Tray Hawkins on Nov. 6.
The board also held its reorganization meeting, in which Bush was nominated and elected chairman for 2012-13, while Commissioner Todd Abbott was chosen vice chairman.
“I want to recognize and thank County Judge Colby Peel for running the very successful election,” Brock said. Peel was on hand to swear in the commissioners. “It was a very impressive job.”
County Attorney Jeff Goodman congratulated the new members of the board, then asked that Commissioner Abbott accompany him, County Administrator Steve Joiner and County Engineer Cliff Knauer to a meeting at the Department of Transportation on Nov. 28 to discuss “Project Pipe.”
“Project Pipe” has been an ongoing attempt to get a railroad spur built so that the Columbus, Ga., based The Concrete Company can bring what was described in the 2009 edition of the Washington Chamber of Commerce Advocate as a project in which “about $12.75 million in capital investment will be used to construct a full-service site facility, bringing over 150 jobs with an estimated $5.1 million annual payroll to the county by the final production phase, which will take about two years.”
As of 2009, the project was more than three years old, according to the Chamber newsletter.
Grant monies were sought by the county to build a rail spur and industrial grade road for the project. Part of the requirement for the grant was that jobs would be created as a result of the project.
The project slowed late in 2007 as the company put its energies into building two new facilities in Georgia and Alabama, according to the Chamber newsletter.
Besides the grant money, the county has a bank loan for the project which Goodman asked the board to extend for another year while county officials met with The Concrete Company and the FDOT to try and work out details on the stalled project.
The plan was for the county to own and maintain the railroad spur, leasing it to tenants including Frank Foley. President of The Concrete Company.
The purpose of the Nov. 28 meeting is to try and come up with a schedule on the project to submit to the DOT by the calendar year. Goodman asked for a board member to attend the meeting and asked that the project be made a line item for discussion at the commission’s next workshop. Goodman requested that Vice Chairman Abbott attend the meeting since Abbott has been involved with the project for a number of years.
“I have never felt good about this project until today,” Abbott said. “This meeting is forcing all the parties involved to get together.”
Brock asked Knauer his honest opinion on whether or not the project would ever be completed.
“If I based my honest opinion on past performance, I would have to say ‘no,’” Knauer said. “This meeting coming up should be the chance for the county to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’ I think this is a great opportunity for the county to say ‘we’re moving forward’ or ‘let’s do something else.’”