HELEN, Ga. – This Alpine city may be down, but it’s not out.
Helen Mayor Jeff Ash said, “I’ve seen it rain this much in a single day, but I’ve never seen a week like this. I’ve never seen this much water and I’ve been here 33 years.”
Helen residents have endured some 20 inches of rain this week, mudslides and silt covered streets and parking lots. That would devastate many small towns. But it has steeled Helen’s residents who are determined to remain open for business. In fact, three major events that attract hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, are taking place as scheduled – the 45th annual Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race, the U.S. Rider News Reunion and the Southeast Victory Run.
“I can tell you that every single city employee and every citizen has worked triple time and our property owners themselves have worked to help us remain open,” Ash said. “I couldn’t be more proud of how everyone has responded.”
There was a mudslide across the street from the city’s post office. Alpine Mini Golf was flooded more than once and Main Street was under water for a time. There was also significant damage to the golf course at Innsbruck Resort and Golf Club. Nacoochee Valley was flooded at one point and the ‘Hooch continues to roar through the middle of town at a dangerously high flow level.
Terry Sims owns three businesses in town including Alpine Coaster, which he hoped to open this spring, but winter rain delayed the opening. Then, what appears to have been a record-setting week of rain returned Tuesday.
“We pretty much had it cleaned up Wednesday then rain returned (Thursday) and here we are again,” Sims said. “Getting seven inches of rain in 45 minutes to an hour didn’t help things. We were here until 10 p.m. yesterday.”
Like others, Sims said he will return again and again if necessary.
The spirit of the town’s folks will help this mountain city back to normal sooner rather than later.
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CLEVELAND, Ga. – The White County Board of Commissioners will hold a called meeting Thursday, May 17, at 8 a.m. Two key issues to be discussed include a resolution in support of the extension of Ga. 400 and the distribution of a proposed 2020 special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).
The joint resolution being proposed by both White and Lumpkin county governments calls for Ga. 400 to be extended 16.2 miles from its intersection with state Route 60 in Lumpkin County to the new Appalachian Parkway in White County.
Ga. 400 has been an important catalyst for commercial, industrial and economic growth in the counties it runs through. Tourism is one of the top industries in White and Lumpkin counties, hosting about 1.2 million tourists each year. A major four-lane divided highway would make the counties more accessible to tourists.
Commissioners estimate the SPLOST could generate $24,000,000. However, first, city and county officials will have to decide on how to split the tax revenue. City officials want 23 percent each. County officials would like to award each city 13 percent, the same as they received last year. After that, White County voters will have to approve the proposed SPLOST in a November referendum.
All three governments have important projects they would like to fund.
The preliminary list of proposed county projects includes courthouse renovations and additions for an estimated $5 million, payment to the White County Building Authority for the new Yonah Preserve Park for $4.8 million and resurfacing and improvements to county roads and equipment for the Roads and Bridges Department for $3 million. Other county projects include E-911 and Fire-EMS equipment facilities and vehicles ($1.5 million) and Sheriff’s Office equipment, facilities and vehicles ($500,000).
The city of Cleveland’s proposed project list includes water and wastewater improvements, estimated at about $2.4 million, acquisition or improvement of public buildings, infrastructure improvements, parks and public recreation areas, public safety facilities and vehicles, road, street, bridge and sidewalk projects. Mayor Shan Ash estimates the cost of all those projects would be about $5.5 million.
Helen Mayor Jeff Ash said if Helen receives the 23 percent it is seeking, half of that would fund wastewater treatment. “We have 93 million gallons of sewage that has to be lifted and put in that pond (for treatment). We need a new lift station and those things aren’t cheap,” he told the Board of Commissioners recently.
Ash estimated that about half of White County’s overall revenue is tourist related, much of which is generated by Helen’s 2.5 million visitors each year.
( Feature Image: Cranes lift Helen’s new pedestrian bridge over the Chattahoochee and lower it into place, as 50 to 60 onlookers applaud their effort.)
HELEN, Ga. — At 11:20 a.m. Thursday, two massive cranes lifted a 61,300-pound pedestrian bridge high above the Chattahoochee River and swung it precisely into place between International Cafe and The Castle Inn, completing a project seven years in the making.
The work had to be precise because crane operators had to lower the massive bridge onto two concrete platforms on each side of the river. The structure with pre-drilled bolt holes in the bridge had to line up precisely with the bolt holes in the platforms.
An army of workers from Square Deal Enterprises did an outstanding job of prep work. Once the bridge was secure, the workers drew a well-deserved round of applause from 50 or 60 townspeople and tourists who came out to watch.
Opening the bridge to foot traffic is still two to three weeks away. The next step is to pour about 100,000 pounds of concrete for the walking surface and allow it to set. However, Mayor Jeff Ash said he expects to have it open before tourist season begins.
The bridge is 157 feet in length, with a total width of nine feet and walking width of 7.5 feet. It is a twin span to the one directly across Main Street in front of Paul’s Steakhouse.
Helen Police began to detour traffic away from Main Street (Ga. 17/75) at approximately 8 a.m.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com