West Winder bypass rerouted through wetlands

WINDER - The original route of the West Winder Bypass has been reconfigured to avoid crossing the historical 186-acre Carlyle-Blakey farm near Ga. Highway 211.

The new route will pass within 800 feet of the jail under construction, said Michael Fischer, Barrow County's deputy administrator, and will destroy about one acre of wetlands, said Terry Darragh, public works director. It features a curve as sharp as the Department of Transportation allows, Darragh said.

The Carlyle-Blakey farm has been submitted for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places and meets criteria for the listing, according to a letter from Gretchen Brock, National Register coordinator, dated Sept. 12, 2006.

If Barrow County wants to acquire federal and/or state funds to build the West Winder Bypass, the road's route cannot impact the farm, Federal Highway Administration officials said.

On May 12, 1948, more than 600 workers with 200 pieces of farm equipment toiled over the worn-out, eroded acres in a project sponsored by the state Soil Conservation Service. In one day, workers built fences, a pond, a new barn, plowed fields on the contour and transformed the land into a soil conserving farm. The event drew more than 60,000 spectators, according to the book, "From Beadland to Barrow," by Fred Ingram, and qualifies the farm for historical status.

The new route will drop south along Pearl Pentecost Road to avoid the farm, curve around to Carl Cedar Hill Road, then north toward Ga. Highway 211, taking drivers through nine traffic lights along the way.

"What will this do for jail security?" asked Peggy Chaney, whose home boarders the Carlyle-Blakey farm. "You will have a four-lane highway coming right by the jail and courthouse."

A heavily wooded hill stands between the jail site and the proposed route of the West Winder Bypass, said Barrow County Sheriff's Capt. Michael Katsegianes.

The new proposed route will impact about 11 planned homes in the Pinnacle Oaks subdivision, which is not yet developed.

Barrow County has paid Moreland Altobelli $368,624 for drawings and plans for the West Winder Bypass.

To cut through the wetlands will cost even more.

Under mitigation law, the county can either create new wetlands and maintain them or purchase mitigation credits. Mitigation banks require any entity that destroys wetlands or endangered species habitat to create, restore and protect wetlands or habitat elsewhere. If an entity can't or doesn't want to do that work, it can purchase mitigation credits. The state then funnels that cash into the creation or maintenance of wetlands somewhere else.

"We will destroy about an acre of wetlands," Darragh said. "Some wetlands have more value than others, and I don't know where this one stands on that scale. Often the mitigation allows us to preserve one of higher value."

In July, Barrow County purchased about $172,460 worth of mitigation credits related to about an acre of wetlands that will be destroyed by construction of the Barrow Park Drive extension that will service the new courthouse and jail.

Chaney worries about what will become of the wildlife that live in those wetlands.

"We see cranes, beavers, mink, fox, wood duck, mallard, egrets, blue cranes, coyotes and deer," Chaney said. "It's abundant with wildlife - raccoons, possums, kingfishers, bobcats, turkey, Canada geese come in. That area supplies water to people and animals, and none of us can survive without water. It is so hurtful to see."

Miles of culverts will be built to accommodate a number of creeks over which the West Winder Bypass will cross, including Cedar Creek, which flows into Winder's city pond.

"A culvert will go in under the road and Cedar Creek will flow through it," Darragh said. "Cedar Creek is already full of silt. A southern running tributary of Cedar Creek is also affected by the new road."