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YEAR IN REVIEW: A look back at 2013
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Malia Alles pours a beer during the inaugural Dawsonville Music and Beer Festival in August. - photo by File photo

Looking back on 2013, Dawsonville and Dawson County have much to celebrate.

From festivals that brought thousands of guests to our community, to the filming of the next installment of the Hunger Games and a steady business interest along the Ga. 400 corridor, Dawson County remains a popular destination.

While many nearby communities continued to feel the effects of an economic slump, Dawson prospered in 2013 with the openings of several new restaurants and plans for a retail "power center" aimed at drawing national retailers and popular eateries.

Future growth was also the basis for the city's downtown revitalization plan, as well as its continued pursuit of a reservoir near the Lumpkin County line.

Lanier Technical College's Dawson Campus posted record enrollment in 2013, and the Dawson County school system relocated its administrative offices to the former Community & Southern branch building on Main Street.

As with any year, however, 2013 also brought its share of adversity, including torrential rainfall that caused severe flooding throughout the county, forcing some residents from their homes and ruining farmers' crops.

Also an issue was the federal government shutdown, which hit close to home when preschoolers were turned away from federally-funded Head Start classes.

As 2014 begins, the events of last year serve as a stage for the months to come.

Schools see movement in 2013

The Dawson County Board of Education saw several periods of movement during 2013.

First, the board was forced to raise the millage rate by 1.7 mils for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, citing a declining tax digest and rising operational costs.

The millage rate, which is 17.246 mills, is part of a formula used to calculate property taxes, where one mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value.

The decision was preceded by two hearings on the issue, during which no one spoke against the plan.

However, the board was able to use the money from a previously instated education local option sales tax voters approved in November 2009, when they agreed to a five-year extension of the 1-cent sales tax for education. The 2009 referendum passed with 77.7 percent of the vote.

In April, the school board voted 3-0 to purchase the two vacant buildings from Community & Southern Bank. The 13,700-square-foot building at 28 Main St. was purchased for $1.3 million through ELOST funds.

One of the board's employees won't get to see much of this new building, though.

After five years as Dawson County School Superintendent, Keith Porter announced his retirement at the end of this school year.

Porter, a county native and product of the local school system, announced his decision in early December. His last day will be May 31.

Driver, 16, charged in car surfing fatality

Charges were filed in November against the Forsyth County teenage driver involved in a June fatal car surfing wreck that claimed the life of a 16-year-old Dawson County girl.

The driver, also 16 and whose name was not released because she is a juvenile, was charged with felony first-degree homicide by vehicle, reckless driving and driving too fast for conditions.

She also has been charged with driving in violation of license restrictions. Only immediate family may be passengers in the vehicle for the initial six-month period after 16-year-olds obtain a Class D license.

The fatal incident occurred June 10 on Couch Road in Dawsonville.

Authorities said Anna Hawkins was car surfing when the driver of the Suzuki Grand Vitara lost control in a curve and she fell from atop the vehicle.

Hawkins' family has disputed the claim that she was car surfing, a dangerous practice often depicted in movies and on TV that involves standing on the hood or roof of a moving vehicle, though authorities contend evidence was collected that "places her on the vehicle."

Described as a friend to everyone and someone who went out of her way to make others feel loved, Hawkins was a rising junior at Dawson County High School, where she excelled both academically and on the soccer field.

The wreck marked the county's fourth traffic fatality of 2013 and the fifth death on Dawson County roads.

City activities popular in 2013

Dawsonville may have brewed up a couple new traditions in 2013 beginning with the inaugural Dawsonville Music and Beer Festival in August.

The two-day event featured more than a dozen live bands, as well as a variety of Georgia-based craft brewers, that ushered in thousands of enthusiasts who spent the weekend sipping beer and supporting live local music.

"This was so much fun. Everybody's having a great time," Mayor James Grogan said during the festival. "We've had no problems and all I'm hearing are good comments from everybody," he said. "They're all saying they want this to be an annual event."

The city, along with the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, also held its inaugural Christmas parade in December to a holiday-spirited crowd lining the downtown streets.

"Oh wow, the candy, we got so much candy, pockets full that we gave to the smaller kids," said 11-year-old Emily Coley. "The parade was so much fun. They've got to keep doing this every year."

Grogan also wants to see the parade become a new local, holiday tradition.

"The parade was an absolute blast," he said. "Everyone was enthusiastic about it. Thank you Dawsonville for turning out for the first annual Christmas parade. It will only be bigger and better next year."

Although not a new tradition, the 46th annual Mountain Moonshine Festival the last week of October also packed the streets of Dawsonville with an estimated 100,000 visitors in town for the weekend event.

With vendors from across the Southeast, live entertainment including nationally recognized Confederate Railroad and one of the largest collections of hot rods and racecars at any festival in the nation, the Moonshine Festival pays tribute to the area's unique high octane heritage of white lightning and fast cars.

The festival also celebrated pioneers of the illegal liquor trade by inducting the inaugural class of the National Moonshiners Hall of Fame during opening ceremonies.

Among the inductees were Dawsonville natives Brock Crane and Duck Thurmond.

Proceeds from the festival support K.A.R.E. for Kids' efforts to provide Christmas and other necessities to Dawson County children in need.

Downtown eyes revitalization

The past year was a busy one for the city of Dawsonville. From revitalization plans, new street names and redesigning the roundabout in the center of town, 2013 was a time of change and new plans for Dawsonville.

Conceptual plans to revitalize downtown Dawsonville were released during a town hall meeting in May.

A project of the Dawsonville Downtown Development Authority, the plan focuses on revitalizing the historic district, enhancing the gateways that lead in and out of downtown and improving connectivity. The vision plan is based on data collected through one-on-one interviews, focus groups and surveys.

Among the group's long-term goals are hidden power lines, specifically around the town's historic courthouse, a truck route that would reduce tractor- trailer traffic through the downtown square and visual improvements to the city's existing businesses.

Part of that plan included renaming the streets after racing pioneers that had an impact on Dawsonville.

Among those who celebrated on street signs are: Ted Chester, Bill Elliott, Roy Hall, Bernard Long, Harry Melling, Raymond Parks, Lloyd Seay and Gober Sosebee.

Things that weren't changing around Dawsonville were its elected officials.

Longtime councilman Mike Sosebee, who previously served more than 30 years on the council, and Angie Smith, who was elected in 2012 after being appointed to fill an unexpired term, kept their seats on the city council.

Both Sosebee and Smith reiterated their dedication to continuing the revitalization plans.

Summer floods damage roads

A summer of storms stretching from May to August of last year left Dawson County roads damaged and closed for extended periods of time.

Assessments indicated that 27 locations across the county sustained varying degrees of damage during storms Aug. 7.

Among the roads affected by flooding were Harry Sosebee, between Lumpkin Campground and Black's Mill, Joe Chester, Holcomb and Little Mountain, Pine Bridge Drive, Thompson at Hwy. 53 and Cowart.

Flooding also occurred along the Etowah River at River Park on Hwy. 9 South. Both the canoe put-in parking lot and adjacent dog walking facility were closed.

The county also suffered nearly $600,000 in damage during a May 19 storm that dumped more than 6 inches of rain in less than seven hours and resulted in several road closings.

The DOT later approved $200,000 in emergency funding, through the state's 2013 Emergency Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant, to repair road and culvert damage.

Due to the costs of the road damage, commissioners voted in October to close Etowah River Road and Hubbardsville Circle for the immediate future.

IRS seizes pharmacy over unpaid taxes

A longtime downtown pharmacy remains open despite an Internal Revenue Service auction in November that sold the property in an effort to collect back taxes.

Goodson's Pharmacy at 159 Hwy. 53 West in Dawsonville sold Nov. 19 for "about $2,300 over the minimum bid" of $7,200, according to Paul Reed, the I.R.S. property appraisal and liquidation specialist.

"The lien was not even close to being satisfied," he said.

Reed said there is nearly $65,000 in liens against the property owned by Phillip Goodson, who started the family business more than three decades ago.

In addition to federal taxes, penalties and fees, the amount also includes delinquent county property taxes, state taxes and debt to the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents, according to Reed.

"There are other liens on file that encumber the property and [together] they total $65,000," he said.

Reed said Goodson has 180 days from the date of the sale to repay the successful bidder the sale price plus interest.

"After 180 days, the property will be deeded over to the successful bidder," he said. "If the property is redeemed by Goodson, the deed will remain on it and any other personal property Goodson may own."

Goodson, who will have full access to the property until it's deeded to another party, said that he hoped the issue would be resolved before the sale took place.

"We've been working to get this settled, but it seems like everything takes twice as much time with the federal government," he said at the time. "As far as I knew, this was under control."

Head Start reopens after brief shutdown

The Ninth District Head Start program closed last October due to the nationwide federal government shutdown.

The program closed Oct. 7 due to the government shutdown, which coincided with the beginning of the federal program's grant cycle.

The annual grant for Ninth District is $19.8 million alone.

However, the program was able to reopen thanks to a $10 million donation from Houston philanthropists Laura and John Arnold to the National Head Start Association, temporarily funding programs across six states, including Georgia.

Ninth District Opportunity's Head Start covers 20 Georgia counties, including Dawson.

Thanks to the grant, the program was able to stay open until the end of the shutdown, allowing the grant funds to continue operations.

‘Hunger Games' shoots in Dawson

Film crews from the blockbuster "Hunger Games" movie franchise were in town last September shooting scenes for "Mockingjay," the third segment in the popular series.

Scenes were filmed on a large tract of private land off Elliott Family Parkway, where crewmembers were seen hauling in large lights and industrial-strength fans.

The local set was closed to the public with local off-duty security officers keeping away any onlookers, including a couple of paparazzi who had heard Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence might have been there.

It remains unclear if Lawrence, who plays "Hunger Games" heroine Katniss Everdeen, was on the set.

She was, however, spotted about a year ago at the local Starbucks and also shopping at the outlet mall. That was around the same time production crews were scouting Dawson to film scenes for "Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the second installment.

Georgia has been one of the country's leading locations for Hollywood film production for a couple of years, thanks to the tax breaks and incentives the state offers the industry.

Christie Haynes, president of the local chamber of commerce and office of tourism development, said filming a movie the magnitude of "Hunger Games" could have a tremendous impact on economic development.

Interest along 400 continues to peak

Interest in Dawson County, especially along Ga. 400, continued to surge throughout 2013 with the addition of several national restaurants and retail shops announcing land purchases and building plans.

Atlanta-based Blanchard Real Estate Capital is expected to break ground in early 2014 on a commercial "power center" on the 102-acre lot off Ga. 400 just south of North Georgia Premium Outlets between Carlisle and Dawson Forest roads.

"This is the perfect site to undertake a project like this and we think the people of Dawson County are going to be happy with the end result," said David Wishen, a principal with the firm.

Originally intended as a massive retail development that fell through when the economy tanked, Blanchard purchased the foreclosed Sembler property to build a nearly 350,000 square foot center that will include both national retailers and popular eateries.

"We're in pretty serious discussions with a handful of national retailers," he said.

Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the Development Authority of Dawson County, said Blanchard's purchase "shows a tremendous amount of confidence in Dawson County and confidence in the future."

Additionally, a number of new restaurants opened along the stretch of highway, including Dunkin' Donuts and Popeye's.

A freestanding Dollar General on Hwy. 53 north of Tractor Supply and O'Reilly Auto Parts just north of Hwy. 53 on Ga. 400 are also planned.

Lanier Tech gets president, dean

While 2013 was a year of major growth for Lanier Technical Institute, seeing the largest enrollment numbers ever and expanding into new programs, two major installations for the year were in staffing.

Ray Perren was chosen as new president of Lanier Technical College in a unanimous vote by the Technical College System of Georgia at its April meeting in Atlanta.

Perren succeeded Russell Vandiver, who retired at the end of March after 37 years at Lanier Tech, including the last three as president.

The search committee interviewed six candidates to replace Vandiver. Three were recommended as finalists to Jackson, who interviewed the finalists in March and made his recommendation to the board.

Lanier Tech's Dawson campus also welcomed a new head figure.

Lanier Technical College announced in February the selection of Troy Lindsey as dean of the local campus.

He replaced Tim McDonald, who served as dean of the Dawson Campus for three years before his promotion to Lanier Tech's vice president of economic development in October.

Atlanta surgeon killed in crash

A December plane crash left officials searching for answers for the next few days.

The Piper Malibu PA-46 crashed the evening of Dec. 2, killing the pilot, later identified as John H. Culbertson Jr., an Atlanta surgeon.

Debris was collected from a 700-foot wide by 2,000-feet long path near the Dawson-Lumpkin County line along Auroria Road.

The main wreckage was located in a wooded area behind a home. Emergency officials on scene said Culbertson was deceased inside the cockpit.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the plane left Morristown, N.J. around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 using an instrument flight rules flight plan, meaning the pilot must meticulously evaluate weather and creates a detailed flight plan based around specific instrument departure.

The plane lost radar and radio contact at around 7:15 p.m. later that day. The wreckage was located a short time later in a heavily wooded area in Dawson County off of Auraria Road, off Ga. 400.

City seeks water business

On top of its plans for revitalization, the city of Dawsonville is trying to get into the water business.

The city unveiled plans to construct the Calhoun Creek Regional Reservoir.

The proposed reservoir, which would straddle the Dawson-Lumpkin county line near Hwy. 9, calls for a dam 2,000 feet wide by 230 feet tall and a 450-acre lake.

In February, Dawsonville applied for two surface water withdrawal permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. If approved, they would allow the city to pull water from the Etowah and store it in the proposed reservoir.

The city also applied for a $20,000 grant to cover a feasibility study on the project, in addition to the more than $20 million in direct state investment as part of the Governor's Water Supply Project.

According to the city's application, the cost breakdown of its project would involve $20 million to acquire land and $162 million in various engineering, construction and miscellaneous fees for a total of $182 million.

"The region is going to need water in the future," said Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan. "Today it's not an issue, but we're looking toward the future. We will have growth and we will need water."