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Marshall hears details of 2050 plan

COVINGTON -- Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., said he is impressed with the collaboration of local leaders on the 2050 buildout Plan, but he cautioned they shouldn't count on federal money to help meet their goals.

Marshall came to The Center on Washington Street to meet with officials Thursday afternoon and learn more about the buildout plan, the result of five years of work of the Leadership Collaborative.

"All communities should have different devices they use to try to pull people together," Marshall said, adding that if the various groups that came together to form the plan can execute it, it would be "fabulous."

But, he said, the federal government has too many issues affecting people on a much larger scale -- like health care, the national debt, education, the environment and transportation -- and the likelihood there will be money to help one community improve its quality of life is slim.

"I would not hold my breath for the federal government to come in here and solve most of your problems," Marshall said.

David Waller, a member of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, said he hoped Marshall would keep Newton in mind if any programs or funding do become available, and Marshall agreed.

He said one way to pay for aspects of the plan might be to tax certain areas that will benefit the most from new infrastructure or development, although he added he's not sure if that's allowed under Georgia law.

Kay Lee, director of The Center, noted that the plan calls for 50 percent of Newton County to be preserved as green and agricultural space. Lee is also a part of an organization known as the Green Enterprise Group, and their goal is to have enough food produced locally to feed 30 percent of the county's population, and to help feed the metro Atlanta area, as well. She said once they have more research done, they would like to come back to Marshall and present how Newton could become a food resource for the metro area.

The buildout plan is based on projections that the county's population could reach 400,000 by 2050. Lee said Newton County has experienced rapid growth in the last 10 years, frequently making the Census Bureau's list of fastest growing counties in the country.

"I wouldn't be wanting to be right. I wouldn't want to have 400,000 people," Marshall said, noting that the county's extreme growth in the past was likely related to no established plan to address sprawl. But growth likely won't come again at that pace, he said.

"You cannot base your projections on what's been happening in the last decade. Don't base your projections on that. That's false," Marshall said.

Lee responded that the projections are based on research from nine demographic centers, and even if incorrect, the plan will provide a template for future growth, regardless of its pace.

The key principles of the buildout plan are protecting clean water; creating communities; creating corridors; and coordinating infrastructure.

The plan includes a map that portrays the placement of town centers in the Covington, Almon, Salem, Oak Hill and Hub Junction communities; a proposed Bear Creek Reservoir and an airport business park; a conservation zone in the eastern part of the county that contains large agricultural parcels and a watershed and would be occupied by 5 percent of the population; compact community zones throughout the western and central part of the county occupied by 80 percent of the population; and rural zones in Oxford and along the Yellow River with 15 percent of the population.

Members of the Leadership Collaborative include representatives from the county and its five municipalities, the Chamber of Commerce, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the Newton County Board of Education. The plan has been unanimously supported by all those governments and organizations.