Fort Valley could help build Crawford County industrial park

ROBERTA -- The pitch goes something like this: Crawford County has some great potential industrial park sites, and Fort Valley has the utilities that could serve the new businesses.

The concept, discussed in a meeting last week, appeared to meet with much interest and little skepticism. Representatives of the Crawford County Development Authority said they were considering development sites in the southern part of the county but needed natural gas, sewer, water and potentially electricity to be brought from Fort Valley, which is in Peach County.

Stacy Ladson, executive director of the Crawford County Development Authority, said she plans to let her potential partners in Peach County mull the issues before reaching out again to figure out the next steps, if any.

Fort Valley Mayor Barbara Williams said she expects Fort Valley boards will discuss the proposal.

“The project certainly sounds like a good project, but we need to discuss it in the individual agencies first,” Williams said earlier this week.

Ladson told The Telegraph that one potential employer could bring about 50 jobs to south Crawford County. That employer could wind up using $150,000 per month in natural gas that could come from the Fort Valley Utility Commission.

Natural gas, however, is relatively cheap to supply. The larger sticking point is likely to be sewer service, because it’s so costly to extend sewer lines and even more expensive to add capacity at existing plants. Ladson said the business she’s talking to requires only a modest amount of sewer service, more for restrooms than industrial wastewater.

Bob Hunnicutt, vice chairman of the Fort Valley Utility Commission, said at last week’s meeting that the utility is worried about whether it would have any excess capacity because of worries about tighter regulations.

“We can work with that,” replied Charlie Westberry, a Crawford County Development Authority member. Westberry said Fort Valley officials could reject any development that would tax their service too much. Both would benefit from jobs.

“What’s good for Fort Valley is good for Crawford County, and vice versa,” Westberry said.

Ralph Nix, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said the potential employer would bring good-paying jobs.

“Nobody’s going to pay attention to where the county line is for jobs,” Nix said.

Ladson said the county’s current industrial park has just two vacant lots in it, one of which may soon have a tenant. A new park could be comparable in size to the current park, which is about 140 acres.

“We just want to make sure we have enough room and, God willing, we fill it up fairly quickly,” she said.

Westberry and Ladson said U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and OneGeorgia grants could pay most or all of the costs of buying the property and bringing the utility improvements to it. Some of those services already extend along U.S. 341 into southern Crawford County, officials said.

Last week’s meeting included members of the development authorities of both counties; Fort Valley Utility commissioners; members of the governments of Fort Valley, Crawford County and Peach County; and staff of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.

“We need y’all,” Crawford County Commission Chairman Paul Chapman said. “I think it’s good for both counties.”

Peach County Commissioner Roy Lewis agreed.

“I don’t see a downside for anybody in this room,” he said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.