News for Sunday, January 14, 2007

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President takes calculated risk

With his new Iraq policy, President Bush essentially has written off any prospect of regaining broad support at home for his course of action, in the slender hope of finding the key to military success and political agreements in Baghdad.

Gwinnett Gab

Bridal show to be held

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Gwinnett Historic Courthouse will host the 2007 Winter Bridal & Fashion Show today.

Norcross travels to home of basketball

This is a game that Eddie Martin has been looking forward to all year.

Company to launch campaign switching Cingular to AT&T name

NEW YORK - Three years after AT&T Wireless subscribers found their cell-phone carrier was now Cingular Wireless, Cingular Wireless subscribers will soon be learning to call their carrier AT&T.

Now serving Suwanee: First restaurants open in city's Town Center

SUWANEE - In Suwanee's newly transformed Town Center, people can already live, work and play. Now people can eat there, too.

Department battles series of brush fires

LAWRENCEVILLE - Firefighters battled a series of unexplained brush fires along Interstate 85 southbound Saturday afternoon, and the cause of the fires is still under investigation.

Birth Announcements

Oct. 9

Roxie Mae Mecomber was born on Oct. 9, 2006, to Belinda Mecomber and Wayne Mecomber of Loganville. She weighed 8 lbs., 9 oz. and was 19 inches long.

Placeholder budget awaits long-term funding choices

ATLANTA - Georgia taxpayers would spend more on state government next year than ever before if the General Assembly adopts the budget request unveiled by Gov. Sonny Perdue last week.

The governor's $20.2 billion 2008 budget would give teachers and state workers moderate pay raises, build more schools and roads to keep pace with rapid grown and make a down payment on what promises to be a huge long-term commitment to health care for state retirees.

Despite that record spending, however, longtime budget observers characterize the spending plan as a placeholder for difficult decisions looming in the not-too-distant future on how state government is going to fund its basic responsibilities, from education to transportation to health care.

"Everybody's treading water," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the 69,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators. "It's making it very difficult for teachers."

As outlined by Perdue in his annual State of the State message last week, the budget would give teachers and state employees 3 percent raises. He said more than half of the teachers also would qualify for another

3 percent increase in the form of longevity pay.

For the second year in a row, the governor also vowed that the state will absorb the costs of increases in health premiums for teachers and state workers.

Perdue's budget also contains $954 million in borrowing for construction projects, mostly for schools and colleges, and a major boost in his Fast Forward transportation program aimed at speeding up completion of needed highway projects.

And the governor proposed setting aside $100 million as the first installment on what is projected as a $20 billion, 30-year obligation to cover the future costs of state retirees' health benefits.

Revenue doubts

In fact, there's so much new spending - an 8.6 percent increase over this year's budget - that today's relatively sluggish state tax collections might not be able to keep pace, said Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an Atlanta-based think tank.

Not counting revenues from the state gasoline tax, which can only be used for highways and bridges, tax receipts grew by only 3.8 percent during the first half of the current fiscal year, Essig said. Yet. Perdue's revenue estimate for fiscal 2007, which ends on June 30, is almost 4.5 percent.

Essig said the governor's estimate for revenue growth in fiscal 2008 - 5.7 percent - is higher than those of economic forecasters at either the University of Georgia or Georgia State University, who are projecting a slowdown.

"I assume the governor and his economists think the economy is going to grow," Essig said. "If their numbers come in, everything is fine. If they don't, we have a problem."

At the same time, Essig praised Perdue's spending proposals as in tune with such a rapidly growing state.

"I don't think there's anything in there that could be considered wasteful," he said. "He's meeting the needs."

But others said the governor's budget does little more than tide the state over until policy makers arrive at some long-term decisions on how to pay for state government.

For example, Callahan said, teachers must be content with cost-of-living raises while awaiting the recommendations of an education funding task force and the results of a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of state support for public schools.

The task force, created by Perdue more than two years ago, won't complete its work until after this year's legislative session. The lawsuit isn't expected to wrap up before this fall.

"There's lots of uncertainty out there," Callahan said.

No rail money

E.H. Culpepper, a member of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority from Athens, said that same sense of uncertainty is partly to blame for the lack of commuter rail funding in the governor's budget.

Culpepper, a prime backer of a proposed rail line linking Atlanta with Athens via Gwinnett and Barrow counties, said lawmakers aren't likely to decide the future of passenger rail in Georgia until they determine how to plug a looming $7.7 billion six-year shortfall in needed transportation projects.

Two ideas that highway industry representatives and other business leaders have floated to the General Assembly both involve abandoning the gasoline tax - and its restrictions on rail funding - for either a statewide or regional sales tax dedicated to transportation.

"That's such an overriding issue," Culpepper said. "How passenger rail figures into that will be part of the overall discussion."

How the state will fulfill its obligations to its retirees is another long-term concern. A recent change in federal policy is forcing states to account for their retirement systems' future health costs.

Essig said the $100 million Perdue is proposing to jump start that commitment next year is a pittance compared to what must come later, but it's important.

"It's a drop in the bucket," Essig said. "But I think the governor is sending a message that Georgia is taking this seriously."

Resolve to write letters to the editor

Did you read the New Year's resolutions on the editorial page two weeks ago? I had wanted to say my resolution was to be able to get into my skinny jeans standing up, but I realized a lot of people wouldn't get it because they hadn't read my column.

Half of the people reading those resolutions only read the front page, the obituaries and the editorial page. It's been seven years since the Post switched my column from the editorial page to the Lifestyle section and I still run into people who ask me why I stopped writing.

Which brings me to Post editor Todd Cline's resolution: To get more people to write letters to the editor.

I must admit I'm surprised that so few people write letters to the editor when it's such an easy way to have their say and these days doesn't even cost a stamp! And it's not just that LTEs are so popular locally. They are read by people everywhere.

When I was a LTE writer, a talk show host in New Orleans called me about a letter I'd written concerning an issue at Stone Mountain Park. When I wrote about a Gwinnett teacher abusing the moment of silence, CBS called and interviewed me for a possible feature on "60 Minutes."

Road closures

n Arnold Road at U.S. Highway 29 will require intermittent lane closures from 9 a.m. to

4 p.m. through January for road widening and alignment improvements.

Conference focuses on building girls' self-esteem, leadership

My 4-year-old daughter loves the water and won't let a day go by during the summer months when she won't ask to go swimming. In her young mind, she thinks she can swim with the best; however, as loving parents, we know that even with her best efforts we would never allow her to swim unattended or unprotected without a clear understanding of the consequences and the ability to make wise choices in situations of life or death.

Yet as a society we throw our youth into a world saturated with sex and pornography with a pat on the head, a silent prayer and hope they will survive.

We've done a great job of setting up laws that protect youth from the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We put measures in place to ensure that our youth don't get behind the wheel of our cars to maneuver traffic on Interstates 85 or 285, yet when it comes to the issue of sex, we have become passive and have allowed a predator to emerge from our silence, fear and denial.

From cartoons, toy characters and fashion to music, television and other forms of media, unsolicited vulgarity, sexual innuendos and female exploitation continue to be thrown in the faces of children and families across our nation - unwelcomed, unsolicited and unwarranted. In many cases, kids are confronted and put in a position to make adult decisions before they are physically, financially, spiritually or emotionally mature.

We can no longer look the other way and pretend the issue is not real, nor can we sweep it under the rug. It's time we deal with the proverbial elephant in our living room by standing up and taking responsibility for the youth and young adults we are entrusted to guide and protect.

In the age of technology and information overload, youths think they know it all. As young adults, most of us thought we knew it all, too. But with age comes wisdom gained from bumped heads, bruised bottoms and broken hearts.

Literary Calendar

Monday

All branches of the Gwinnett County Library will be closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Book drops will be open at all branches. The libraries will open at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Call 770-822-5351 or visit www.gwinnettpl.org.

Prep Roundup: Dacula's Daniel hits 1,000-point mark

DACULA - For a junior needing only eight points to hit the 1,000-point mark for her career, Abbie Daniel took her time.

Investigator in HP spy probe pleads guilty

AP Technology Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Federal prosecutors scored their first victory in the investigation of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ill-fated boardroom spying probe Friday, when a low-level private investigator pleaded guilty to identity theft and conspiracy charges.

Development will set tone for commercial growth

LAWRENCEVILLE - The proposed shopping district at The Villages at Ivy Creek will be in the model of The Avenue at Webb Gin and The Forum at Peachtree Parkway, but the shopping center in the mostly residential area won't be mean as a draw for outside shoppers, a spokesman said.

From volcanoes to beaches, Maui is the ultimate escape

gdptravel@gmail.com

If you've been to one of the Hawaiian islands and think you've seen it all, think again.

After I spent a week touring the Big Island in a red convertible, exploring every nook and cranny from its volcano park to Kona, I was humbled by a passing visitor.

"You've only scratched the surface," he said. "You have to see Maui, it's like another country."

The gentleman was correct. Maui is home to pristine beaches, the largest dormant volcano and the second highest waterfall in the United States. With a year of guaranteed 80-degree days, gentle breezes and deep blue water, Maui is heaven on earth.

If you were ever to splurge, this is the place to do it.

Maui's volcanoes

are natural wonders

If you want to appreciate Maui, the best place to start is with its rugged volcanoes. The Haleakala National Park is a natural wonder to behold. Put on your hiking shoes - the park has 27 miles of trails.

Hikers don't have to negotiate the full length of trails in one visit, though. There are several shorter path options. The Kuloa Point trail is a short loop that provides expansive vistas of the island without putting too much stress on your feet. This is a good trail to set up a picnic.

For a more extensive tour and gradual descent, take on the nine-mile Halemauu trail. You will be amazed as you hike down 1,400 feet to the valley floor. The Sliding Sands trail is basically the same, but its distance is four miles and the return trip is tough, with a steep ascent.

The most difficult hike is the four-mile Papwai trail, which winds its way through the rainforest up to base of the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. All of these hikes require preparation. There is no food, supplies or gas available in the Haleakala National Park.

Take it easy in Maui

After exploring Maui's natural geography, a great place to unwind is Wailea, on Maui's southwestern coast. The area is known for its many resorts. From the elegant Grand Wailea Resort to the Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort, you are guaranteed to be pampered the moment you check in.

The standout in the crowd is the Four Seasons Resort Maui. Its spa was recently named "Top Destination Spa" in the United States by Zagat Guide's 2007 survey of U.S. hotels, resorts and spas. The resort boasts 13 treatment rooms and suites, a Healing Garden and a vast fitness center.

Another unique spa offering is the resort's tapas-style spa treatment menu. At the pool, guests can order smaller sized versions of the spa's full treatments, including 20- to 40-minute head, neck, shoulder, scalp and foot massages. Each treatment includes cool, sliced cucumbers and chilled towels to cover the eyes.

Full spa treatments require advanced booking, while guests can sign up for tapas-style treatments on the spot.

Plentiful recreation

in Wailea

As in many Hawaiian resort areas, the usual recreational suspects can be found in Wailea, including golf. Three resort courses offer challenging terrain and stunning scenery.

The Wailea Gold Course is a par-72 course designed by Robert Trent Jones II. The 7,000-yard course is known as a "thinking player's" course. The Emerald Course features panoramic views of the island's mountains and clear waters.

At the lowest slopes of Mount Haleakala is the Wailea Blue Course. With wide fairways, the course snakes its way through much of Wailea. Nothing beats time on a golf course coupled with views of volcanic formations.

Adventurous recreation is available, for additional fees, through the Four Seasons resort. Snorkeling, surfing lessons, horseback riding, waterfall hikes, downhill biking and even helicopter tours are offered through the concierge desk.

More info

•Maui

www.visitmaui.com

•Haleakala National Park

www.haleakala.national-park.com

•Four Seasons Resort Maui

www.fourseasons.com/maui

Did you know?

Dacula falls short in 8-AAAA duals

ATHENS - Dacula will have to wait another year to earn its first trip to the State dual meet. The third-seeded Falcons went 1-2 Saturday to take fourth place in the Region 8-AAAA duals at Clarke Central.

Dacula lost to No. 2 Jackson County 51-16 in the semifinals. The Falcons (15-5) rallied to knock off Heritage 52-27 in the first consolation round only to get beat by Habersham Central 38-34 in the consolation final.

"(Habersham) finished the drill and did what they needed to do and they deserve the victory," Dacula head coach Jason Holcombe said.

'It was so hot'

The Week That Was

Back in business

The General Assembly on Monday re-elected Georgia's first Republican House speaker in modern times and welcomed the state's first-ever GOP lieutenant governor, Casey Cagle, with new powers.

Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, who was elevated to the top leadership post two years ago after Republicans took control of the House, won a second term by a solid margin, 113-66, with at least seven Democrats siding with their GOP colleagues.

On Wednesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue asked the General Assembly for new dollars to improve education and health care, boost Georgia's economy and preserve pristine land in his State of the State address. Included in his budget request is $28.3 million for a library and $10 million in startup funds for Georgia Gwinnett College.

Anti-Bush press won't give him a chance

It is my contention that no matter what happens in Iraq in the future, the world press will spin it negative as long as President Bush is in the White House. Quite simply, most of the media believe the Iraq conflict is a disaster, and even if things were to improve there, the media now have a vested interest in America's failure. Thus, honest assessments about the war in Iraq will be hard to come by.

Now serving Suwanee

Engagement Announcements

Walker - Semanson

Jerry and Rebecca Walker of Lumber City announce the engagement of their daughter, Katye Suzanne Walker, to Jeffrey Michael Semanson of Lawrenceville, son of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Brian Semanson of Duluth.

The bride-elect is the granddaughter of Ruby Walker and the late Parks Walker of Lumber City and the late John and Mattie Mims of Reynolds. She is a 1994 graduate of Jeff Davis High School. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where she received a bachelor's degree in business administration and human resource management. She is a graduate of LaGrange College, where she received a master's degree in business administration. She is employed with Eaton Corp. in Athens as a human resources manager.

Suitcases collected for charity

LAWRENCEVILLE - Georgia Cancer Specialists and WSB-TV are teaming up on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to collect suitcases - an effort to make a difference in the lives of numerous foster children throughout Georgia.

With nearly 15,000 children living in foster care throughout the state, employees and volunteers have decided to spend the day collecting bags for foster children who may otherwise carry their belongings in trash bags when shuffled between different care providers.

OBITUARIES

BUFORD

PAYNE, WYNELLE

Mrs. Wynelle Martin Payne, age 85 of Buford, passed away Thursday, January 11, 2007. Funeral Service will be held Monday, January 15, 2007 at 11 A.M. in the Chapel of Tapp/Tim Stewart Funeral Home with Rev. Earl Pirkle officiating. Interment will follow in Friendship Baptist Church Cemetery. Born in Gwinnett County, she was a daughter of the later Herbert and Beulah Holland Martin. She was the widow of Ralph B. Payne, Sr. and a member of Friendship Baptist Church. Survivors include her daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca P. and Richard Luck of Greensboro, NC; son, Ralph B. Payne, Jr. of Dacula, GA; sister, Mrs. Ann Hodson of Richmond, VA; 5 Grandchildren and 4 Great Grandchildren. The family will receive friends Sunday, January 14 from 5 to 8 P.M. at Tapp/Tim Stewart Funeral Home and Crematory, 201 Morningside Drive, Buford, GA 30518, 770-945-9345. Please sign online guest registry at www.stewartfh.com.

GAINESVILLE

PARRILLI,

CHRISTOPHER

Mr. Christopher Parrilli, age 87, of Gainesville, GA, passed away Friday, January 13, 2007. Service and Arrangements will be announced later by Junior E. Flanigan of Flanigan Funeral Home and Crematory of Buford, GA, 770-932-1133, www.flaniganfuneralhome.com.*

JEFFERSON

BAKER,LUTHER

Luther Michael Baker, age 61, of Jefferson, GA, formerly of Grayson, passed away Wednesday, January 3, 2007. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions can be made to his son: Michael F. Baker, Georgian Bank, 2055 North Brown Road, Suite 100, Lawrenceville, GA 30043.*

LAWRENCEVILLE

EVERETT, ROBERT

Robert L. "Louie" Everett of Lawrenceville, age 81, passed away January 13, 2007. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Veryln Ethridge Everett. Other survivors include: Daughter and Son-in-Law, Elaine Everett Bishop and Michael Bishop; Granddaughter, Melissa Kolp Roy and her husband, B.J. Roy; Great Grandson, Hudson Roy; Sisters, Ann Kemp and Louise Hall; Brothers and Sisters-in-Law, Rev. L.T. and Geraldine Everett, Douglas and Vivian Everett, all of Dacula; Sister-in-Law, Becky Everett of Lawrenceville; Several Nieces and Nephews. He was preceded in death by brothers, Dewey E. Everett and Huey Everett. Mr. Everett was in the car Business for over 50 years and was associated most of that time with Nash Chevrolet in Lawrenceville. He was a World War II Veteran having served in the U.S. Infantry in Okinawa, where he was awarded three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Lawrenceville. Funeral services will be announced at a later date. Arrangements made by Tom M. Wages Funeral Service, Inc., Lawrenceville Chapel, 770-963-2411, www.wagesfuneralhome.com.

FAIRES, RILEY

Rev. Riley F. Faires, age 101, of Lawrenceville, GA, died January 12, 2007. He is survived by: Daughter, Jannetta Faires Johnson and her Husband, Don Butler of Lawrenceville; Son, Boyce Faires of Defuniak Springs, FL; Brother and Sister-in-Law, Tilmon and Mable Faires of Chattanooga, TN; Grandchildren, Tom and Nancy Johnson, Rick and Tommie Ann Johnson, Kathy Hornbuckle, John and Vickie Hornbuckle, Margie and Steve Stancil, Beth and George Schopf, Russell Faires; 11 Great Grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. Rev. Faires was ordained as a Baptist minister at age 18 and pastored churches in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia and was a member of the First Baptist Church, Lawrenceville and the Lawrenceville Masonic Lodge #131 F. & A. M. He was preceded in death by two wives, Ethel Williams Faires and Ora Mae "Pete" Bryant Faires, daughter and son-in-law, Marie and Bob Hornbuckle, daughter-in-law, Linda Faires, and two grandchildren, Bobby Hornbuckle and Gail Faires. Funeral services will be held Monday, January 15, 2007 at 11:00 A.M. at Wages Lawrenceville Chapel with his Grandson, Rev. Tom Johnson officiating. The great grandsons will serve as pallbearers and the interment will follow at Gwinnett Memorial Park. The family will receive friends Sunday afternoon from 2-5 P.M. at the funeral home. Those desiring may make donations to First Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Building Fund in memory of Rev. Riley F. Faires. Tom M. Wages Funeral Service, Inc., Lawrenceville Chapel, 770-963-2411, www.wagesfuneralhome.com.

PHILLIPS, ALBERT

Albert Phillips, age 75 of Lawrenceville, died Thursday, January 11, 2007. Arrangements by Tim Stewart Funeral Home, 300 Simonton Road, Lawrenceville, Georgia 30045, 770-962-3100. Please sign online guest registry at www.stewartfh.com .*

WINDER

GASTON, WALTER

Mr. Walter Arnold "Wally" Gaston, age 65, of Winder, GA, went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday, January 10, 2007, after an extended illness at home. He was born on September 25, 1941 in Stephens County, GA, a son to the late Mr. and Mrs. Walter and Mary Andrews Gaston. Mr. Gaston was a wonderful father and grandfather, a successful businessman, a man of dignity, pride and a man of his word and he lived his life with integrity and loyalty. He loved spending time and having meals with family and friends and shared many laughs and precious moments in his final days. He loved his farmland, cabin, his two donkeys and all the simple pleasures of life shared with his family and friends. He will be missed by all. He is survived by son and daughter in law, Kip and Alison Gaston of Winder; daughters and sons in law, Terri and Craig Hanson, of Anderson, SC and Jerri and Mike Sims of Dacula; 6 Grandchildren, Seth and Ansley Gaston, Whitney and Zach Hanson, Adam Fisk and Drake Stanifer; his beloved sister and brother in law, Betty and Charles Lowe and family of Pendergrass, as well as many other family members, siblings, nieces and nephews. His cremated remains will lie in state at Statham Baptist Church on Sunday, January 14, 2007 from 1:30pm until 2pm, with a Memorial Service to follow at 2pm with Rev. Gordon Thornton officiating. Flowers may be sent to the Statham First Baptist Church for his memorial service or donations may be made to the Statham Baptist Youth Building Fund at his request. Evans Funeral Home, Jefferson, 706-367-5467.

HAYES, DAVID

David Albert Hayes, age 55 of Winder, went home Friday, January 12, 2007. He fought a good and brave battle for eight years. Funeral Services will be held 2:30 PM, Sunday, January 14, 2007 in the Lawrenceville Chapel of Tim Stewart Funeral Home. Rev. Lester Hall will officiate. Burial Alta Vista Cemetery, Gainesville. A member of First Baptist Church of Winder, Mr. Hayes was preceded in death by his wife and beloved companion of 25 years, Mary Ann Hayes and his father, J. E. Hayes. He will be missed by his mother, Tempie Hayes, Tucker; sister, Joyce and Billy Simonton, Loganville; brothers, Homer and Linda Jordan, Harold Jordan, all of Gainesville; niece, Tracy and Mark Smith; nephews, Travis and Roxanne Simonton, all of Loganville, Stacy and Angela Simonton, Gainesville, Scott and Angelia Simonton, Smyrna. David loved his great nieces & nephews like they were his grandchildren, Christopher Smith, Victoria Smith, Brianna Simonton, Ashley Archer, Brooke Archer, Austin Simonton, Alexander Simonton, Aiden Simonton, and Charlotte Elizabeth Simonton; several cousins and brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews-in-law. David give your sweet little smile to Jesus and I know he will smile and say "a job well done my son". David from the time you were born you have had a huge mountain to climb but you have made it finally and you never complained. Love, Joyce. Tim Stewart Funeral Home, 300 Simonton Road, Lawrenceville, Georgia 30045, 770-962-3100. Please sign online guest registry at www.stewartfh.com .

Collins Hill lives up to hype, wins 7-AAAAA duals

DULUTH - Collins Hill entered Saturday's Area 7-AAAAA tournament at Duluth High School as the heavy favorites to win and lived up to that billing as the Eagles cruised their way to the crown.

Another man arrested in call-girl case

LAWRENCEVILLE - Police have arrested another man linked to an alleged high-end call-girl ring in Gwinnett, and another arrest warrant is pending.

Hull Middle student learns about leadership at conference

Hull Middle School student Cole Romaguera, 12, recently attended the Congressional Youth Leadership Council's Junior National Young Leaders Conference.

Smaller cities leapfrogging Atlanta with commuter rail

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Jennifer Barnes has cut 25 minutes off her commute time into downtown Nashville since September.

Instead of slogging through the morning rush for an hour and 15 minutes from her home in suburban Mount Juliet to the office building where she works, she hops aboard a commuter train for the 20-mile trip.

She's at her desk within 50 minutes of walking out her front door.

But Barnes said the time saved isn't the biggest benefit of riding Nashville's Music City Star, which will mark four months in operation this week. She said it's the stress relief she gets from not having to drive on the region's increasingly congested highways.

"You get this death grip and you still have it when you get to work,'' she said of the driving experience. "Now, it's a lot more relaxing. My day seems to go a lot smoother.''

Commuters in metro Atlanta don't have the same opportunity as Barnes, even though the region they call home has a population more than three times that of Nashville and, as a consequence, significantly more traffic.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, Atlanta-area motorists were stuck in traffic more than six times as many hours during 2003 as their counterparts in Nashville, the most recent year statistics were available.

While Atlanta's inner core has been served for decades by the MARTA rail system, efforts to connect the city with its more distant suburbs via commuter rail service have languished.

As a result, smaller Southeastern cities like Nashville and Charlotte, N.C. - which now features light rail - have moved ahead of Atlanta in offering commuters an alternative to driving on clogged highways.

"They're beginning to outstrip the transportation hub of the Southeast,'' said Emory McClinton of Atlanta, a member of the State Transportation Board and longtime proponent of commuter rail.

Money uncertain

About $109 million in state and federal money was earmarked several years ago for the region's first planned commuter rail line, the lion's share of what will be needed to build a 26-mile route linking downtown Atlanta with suburban Lovejoy to the south.

But securing the rest of the funds, a relative pittance has proved elusive.

Early this month, the Clayton County Commission rescinded a 2005 commitment to cover any operational shortfalls that occur after the line's first three years, arguing that local taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for a regional project.

Planning for the Lovejoy line already had been on thin ice. The project barely won a vote of confidence from the State Transportation Board in late 2005.

Then last year, the state's portion of the funding was thrown into doubt when lawmakers inserted a provision into the budget requiring the General Assembly's approval of commuter rail projects.

Legislative leaders moved quickly to clarify that they didn't intend the provision to apply to the Lovejoy line because it already is funded.

But it does apply to a second proposed commuter line that would connect Atlanta to Athens via Gwinnett County.

The $370 million project has the backing of an alliance of influential business and academic leaders along the corridor, who have labeled it the "brain train'' because it would link the University of Georgia, Georgia Gwinnett College, Emory University, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University.

It also has widespread public support, according to a poll released by the Georgia Brain Train Group last spring.

But neither Gov. Sonny Perdue nor Republican legislative leaders are convinced by consultants' projections that the line could attract 8,000 riders a day.

"I don't want the data that the commuter rail folks are paying somebody to tell me,'' said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "I want hard numbers.''

It was Harbin who introduced the budget provision requiring legislative approval of future commuter rail funding.

"As much as we're for trying to relieve congestion, we don't know this will accomplish that,'' he said.

Research skeptical

Harbin and other skeptics of the viability of commuter rail for metro Atlanta have academic research to back up their position.

The Reason Foundation, a Libertarian think tank, released a study in November that advocated new highways, toll lanes and even tunnels - but not commuter rail - as potential solutions to traffic congestion in the Atlanta region.

Atlanta and other Southeastern cities, including Nashville and Charlotte, are too spread out for rail to succeed, said Robert Poole, the foundation's director of transportation studies.

"(Commuter rail) doesn't make sense given the land-use patterns,'' he said. "Rail could handle no more than a very small percentage of trips.''

Poole predicted that the fledgling commuter rail systems in Nashville and Charlotte won't make "a dent'' in the traffic congestion plaguing those cities.

Indeed, Nashville's Music City Star line is off to a sluggish start. Launched in mid-September, it's hauling only about 500 passengers a day along 32 miles of track between Lebanon in the city's eastern suburbs and downtown Nashville.

That's only about a third of its goal of 1,500 daily riders within its first six months of service.

"It's not where I wanted but about where I expected,'' said Bill Farquhar, commuter rail director for Nashville's Regional Transportation Authority. "It takes time for word of mouth to get out.''

But Farquhar said he's not discouraged. The California native said he has seen commuter rail take hold in other parts of the country without a history of mass transit, including San Diego and Denver.

Farquhar dismissed the notion that commuter rail can't work in areas with low population densities where job centers are widely dispersed.

"That assumes mass transit is trying to solve every problem. It's not,'' he said.

"Commuter rail is never going to replace the private auto for a large percentage of people. But what it does do is give you alternatives. ... The more choices you have, the more accessible your city will be.''

Rail needed

Accessibility has become a key selling point for backers of the Atlanta-to-Athens line. They say the portion of the planned route where commuter rail is most needed is the busy neighborhood east of Atlanta that houses Emory University and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where traffic is frequently snarled.

"There are 28,000 jobs in the Clifton corridor alone not immediately adjacent to a freeway,'' said Wayne Shackelford, a former state transportation commissioner from Gwinnett County now working as senior vice president of an architectural and engineering firm. The company, Gresham, Smith & Partners, helped develop the Nashville rail project.

"Those people desperately need commuter rail, and they desperately want it.''

Indeed, Shackelford and other supporters of commuter rail dismiss an argument frequently put forth by naysayers that people won't abandon their cars for trains, regardless of the amount of traffic they're forced to endure.

Farquhar said he has found that for many commuters, just trying the train is enough to make them regulars. The Music City Star put that theory to the test during the recent football season by running special trains on Sundays to Tennessee Titans home games.

"If you can get somebody on a train, they're much more likely to become a regular rider,'' Farquhar said.

That was certainly the case with commuter Pat McGraw, who became a regular once she started riding the Music City Star back in September.

McGraw said she's only driven once since then from her home in Mount Juliet to her job at Nashville's Vanderbilt University.

"It was horrible,'' she said from her seat on the train as suburban neighborhoods whizzed by outside the window beside her. "I've waited a long time for this.'

Favorite's day

Fishing festival will roll into Gwinnett Center

By Rob Rooks' standards, Georgia residents are some of the luckiest in the world. Mild climates, an abundance of both fresh and salt waters, and the beauty of scenic mountain streams and deep ocean waters - what could be better?

"We are really just blessed to have all these resources right here," said Rooks, an avid fly-fisher and instructor at The Fish Hawk fly-fishing shop in Atlanta. "You've got the Chattahoochee, the Chattooga, the Atlantic Ocean and the north Georgia mountains. These are some of the best fishing locations."

Is having pets the same as having children?

Don't you just love hearing, from people who've made a conscious decision not to reproduce, how their pets are like children?

Sure they are. We all make our children go to the bathroom outside, leave them in small cages to be cared for by strangers when we're on vacation, and neuter them as soon as they reach puberty. Actually, that's not a bad idea.

Relay for Life will kick into gear Saturday at Discover Mills

Are you aware of an event or project that benefits our community? Contact Anna Ferguson at 770-963-9205 ext. 1308 or anna.ferguson@gwinnettdailypost.com.

Dining with the stars

Kids experience science hands-on

BUFORD - Michaela Templeton was excited about static electricity.

Atlanta restaurants offer plenty of options for celeb sightings

"What, am I the only one drinking?" Usher asked, showing off his signature smile as he walked through the door at the recent opening of The Grape at Inman Park.

As the new co-owner of the wine-retail chain, Usher had reason to be flashing those pearly whites.

"I'm very excited about being a part of The Grape," Usher said. "Their philosophies are similar to my own, and I think we will be a very good team."

Mustangs hold on for win over No. 2 Beach

NORCROSS - Still feeling the after effects of the flu, Meadowcreek High School star Chris Allen wasn't at his best Saturday night.

28 people lose homes in fire at apartments

NORCROSS - Nearly 30 people were displaced in a Saturday afternoon apartment fire that destroyed a four-unit building in Norcross.

sports calendar

Baseball

Jan. 20: Walk up registration for Collins Hill Athletic Association baseball will be from 9 a.m. to noon at Collins Hill High School. For questions, or to register online, go to www.chaasports.com. Late registration will be Jan. 26 at an increased price.

March, tributes among events

LAWRENCEVILLE - For years, he marched beside them.

Georgia senators want Iraqis to take responsibility of war

While George W. Bush will mostly be battling Democrats to achieve his new strategy for the war in Iraq, some Republicans also aren't willing to give the president a blank check.

Transportation solutions are right on track

Is MARTA still a four-letter word in Gwinnett? Residents have said no to metro Atlanta's commuter rail in past referendums, but that was nearly a generation ago.

Fort Yargo rangers bag jogger, protester during deer hunt

WINDER - Fifty-two hunters from as far away as Texas bagged 92 deer during Fort Yargo State Park's two-day hunt Jan. 3 and 4.

Park rangers also snagged a jogger and a protester during the closed hunt.

Church explores 'Grey's' characters through sermon series

Tuesday evening, Anna Hunter turned on her TV to find something surprising: Her father, the Rev. Richard Hunter, senior pastor at Snellville United Methodist Church, was featured as the top story on E! network's "The Daily 10" newscast. She picked up her phone, called her mom and learned that her dad was indeed the top entertainment story of the day.

"It was just the cutest thing," said Sydney Longshore, communications director for the church. "It all happened so fast, he didn't even have time to call his daughter and let her know what was going on."

Wesleyan powers past Lovett to claim 3-AA crown

NORCROSS - Head coach Jeff Bedard made a promise to his Wesleyan wrestling team three years ago.

Saturday, in front of an excited home crowd at Yancey Gymnasium, Bedard's assurance came true as the Wolves swept opponent Lovett, 49-21, in the Area 3-AA Duals. It was the first state-bound victory against the Lions, who are two-time defending area dual champions.

"They were a huge obstacle," Bedard said.

"They beat us in the finals the last two years. ... I'm convinced that coach [Jim] Glasser is the best wrestling coach to step foot in the state of Georgia."

The team hurried its way to the finals, enjoying a first-round bye, followed by a resounding 82-0 victory over Avondale and a semifinal win over Fannin 59-9.

In the finals, Chris Alexander won by a 4-2 decision over Barrett Nichols before Wesleyan rolled out pin after pin.

"Back-to-back pins tend to take the air out of anyone's sails," Bedard said of the quick start. "It was a great team effort."

Beginning with Michael Douglas at 189 pounds, the Wolves made three consecutive pins and won the heavyweight match by forfeit.

The Wolves' Kelby Smith took down Lovett's Mac Emerson just once before Smith secured the team's most efficient pin in 1 minute

9 seconds.

"I just wanted to go out there fired up," Smith said. "It got the momentum set up."

The Lions scored their first pin of the day in the 112-pound category, when Ben Popkin pinned Andrew Whited in 1:32. Lovett also won categories 125, 145 and 160 with two major decisions and a pin.

The most contested matchup of the finals was the 130-pound division, where Wesleyan's Jay Heslin held on for a 6-5 decision over Hunter Dunlap.

Dunlap went down six points early, but scored all five of his points in the final two minutes.

Bedard said the victory was important for Heslin's confidence heading into the state tournament.

"He needs that," Bedard said. "His confidence was down but he regrouped and stayed focused."

The Wolves will face Dublin in the first round on Saturday in Macon.

Cagle, Richardson look like 2010 candidates for governor

Evidently, there are at least two ways to go about securing the Republican nomination for governor of Georgia three years from now.

There's House Speaker Glenn Richardson's way. And there's Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's way.

The two GOP legislative leaders appear to be on a collision course in early jockeying for the 2010 nod to succeed Gov. Sonny Perdue at the top of the statewide Republican ticket.

Barring a gubernatorial run by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., which is a distinct possibility, Richardson and Cagle are poised to become the two top contenders.

But from what they had to say last week as the General Assembly kicked off its 2007 session, the two men are taking very different approaches to how they plan to use their current leadership positions.

Richardson said he has no agenda for the next 21⁄2 months. Cagle is pushing an activist agenda of measures he promised voters on the campaign trail last year.

To the speaker, that same campaign trail across Georgia was one months-long lesson that voters are content with the status quo. Otherwise, why would they have re-elected Perdue in a landslide and returned Republicans to control over both legislative chambers?

"People tell me they don't want more laws,'' Richardson told his House colleagues last Monday morning after they chose him to serve a second term as speaker. "A majority of Georgians are happy with what's happening in Georgia.''

That same afternoon, Cagle told an audience of nearly 5,000 after being sworn in as the state's first Republican lieutenant governor that he would work to expand charter schools in Georgia and to establish "career academies'' as a way to increase access to technical education.

The next day, at the annual Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Cagle pitched his plan to put a "jobs advocate'' on his staff to help lure businesses to the state by streamlining incentives programs and permitting procedures.

"Economic development is about putting out a welcome mat for business,'' he said. "Our office will take the lead in creating a pro-jobs culture in Georgia.''

Beneath the surface, however, Cagle and Richardson share more in common than their utterings last week would indicate. In their own ways, both are espousing the mainstream Republican philosophies of lower taxes and less government.

The lieutenant governor is quick to point out that none of his proposals would expand the role of state government.

On the contrary, he said his plan to create charter school systems is aimed at increasing local control over education.

Cagle said that while the jobs advocate he wants involves a new position in the government, that person's job would be to make the state's dealings with businesses more efficient.

"None of my programs are about big government or big spending,'' he said.

And while Richardson professes to no agenda for 2007, the speaker is vowing to play a leadership role in a major reform push that could take off next year. His big issue is tax reform, a favorite of Republicans everywhere.

"I want to change the tax structure of the state of Georgia from one end to the other,'' Richardson said at the Eggs and Issues breakfast.

"I don't want to do piecemeal work. I want to do comprehensive tax reform.''

Toward that end, Richardson has hired a company of tax reform consultants with impeccable Republican credentials. Arduin Laffer & Moore includes economist Arthur Laffer, who is widely credited as the father of supply-side economics for his championing of tax-cutting policies during the 1980s as an adviser to then-President Ronald Reagan.

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.

Wedding Announcements

Long - Hackett

Brandi Rane Long and Jason Owen Hackett were married on Oct. 1 at the Grandview on Lookout Mountain. The Rev. Kelly Grant officiated the ceremony.

Community calendar

Send items for the Community Calendar to calendar@gwinnettdailypost.com or the Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046. The fax number is 770-339-8081. Please include event name, address, phone number and cost. Deadline is two weeks prior to the event.

Parkview wins another 8-AAAAA title

SNELLVILLE - Parkview won the Area 8-AAAAA duals on Saturday. That's not a surprise. The Panthers were the favorite to win their fourth-straight area title.

State BOE member does business with Gwinnett schools

LAWRENCEVILLE - A state Board of Education member whose consulting firm does business with Gwinnett County Public Schools may have to recuse himself from making some decisions that would affect the school system to avoid a conflict of interest, state Department of Education officials said.

It's the perfect time to start using new thyme recipes

Editor's Note: Our "Spice of the Month" series is a monthly look at how to spice up your cooking.

Country club call-girl story makes news in Canada, too

Toronto National Post

Editor's note: The prostitution arrest of Lisa Taylor, aka Melissa Wolf, is also news in the stripper's birthplace of Canada. The following appeared in the National Post's Friday edition.

Rediscovering Beatrix Potter on the big screen

Shelf Life: Rachael Mason

When I was a child, my favorite Beatrix Potter character was Jemima Puddleduck. I not only had the storybook, but also a stuffed Jemima.

Solid white with a yellow beak, she was about the size of a real duck and wore a blue bonnet and a red kerchief. I loved having the main character of a book to play with.

Leaders at odds over land deal

NORCROSS - Charles Bannister looked at the land that might become Gwinnett's newest park and couldn't help but be sarcastic.