Sept. 25 was a morning for traffic accidents in Wrens. Shortly before 7 a.m., a truck owned Howard Sheppard, Inc. failed to properly negotiate a right turn from US 1 onto SR 88. The driver was cited for driving too fast for conditions. Less than three hours later, a second accident occurred just up the road on US 1 at Tom and Jerry's Paint and Body Shop. A county dump truck traveling northbound swerved to miss a white pickup truck that pulled out in front of him. The inmate was able to swerve around the pickup and correct the maneuver but not before the brakes locked, sending the truck careening through the body shop fence and totaling one parked car. The driver was commended for preventing the truck from hitting four other vehicles and the building.
Public hearing on sludge Oct. 6
• Public given chance to voice opinions on the introduction of Columbia County sewage on Jefferson County crops
By Ben Nelms
The possible introduction of Columbia County sewage sludge on grass fields in central Jefferson County will be the subject of a public information meeting Oct. 6. The meeting will be conducted by the Columbia County Water and Sewer Department and by Hudson Grassing Company co-owner Richard Hudson.
The public information meeting at the courthouse in Louisville is the first step in a process of having a land application permit granted by EPD for property on Horseshoe Road owned by Hudson Grassing Company. The sludge would originate at Columbia County's Reed Creek, Crawford Creek and Little River wastewater treatment facilities.
Representing Columbia County at the meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m., will be Columbia County Wastewater Manager Richard Hutcheson, Columbia County Director of Water and Sewage Bill Clayton, Hudson Grassing co-owner Richard Hudson and Steveson and Palmer Engineering's Tom Wiedmeier.
Included in the information meeting will be a power point presentation, said Hutcheson. A portion of the meeting will also be designated for resident's questions.
Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) requires that an initial meeting be held to inform citizens of the intent to land-apply sludge.
If Columbia County intends to continue with the process once the meeting is held, it will apply to EPD for a permit. EPD does not become involved until an application is made. The agency will process the application and initiate a 30-day public comment period to determine if public opposition exists, according to Rachel Cochran, with EPD's Water Protection Branch in Atlanta. EPD will conduct a public hearing if the agency determines that reasonable opposition to land-application exists.
The reaction of some county residents to the possibility of having another permit granted mirrors the one a few years ago when Hudson Grassing applied to expand its permit to include its Horseshoe Road property. The current opposition to the new permit gained additional support recently during an emergency meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. Referencing a statement released Aug. 29, chamber President Brad Day told Jefferson County commissioners that "sludge dumping hurts Jefferson County citizens, businesses and natural surroundings. The chamber board of directors urges the Jefferson and Columbia boards of Commissioners to oppose these dumping plans."
Day asked commissioners to take the necessary legal steps to stop sludge from coming into Jefferson County. He added that the chamber opposes the land application of sludge on county lands now or in the future.
Also weighing in on the question of importing sludge from Columbia County is Friends of the Ogeechee River (FROG), a non-profit group opposed to land application of sludge in the 10-county Upper Ogeechee River Watershed.
A Sept. 29 press release opposed the use of sludge in Jefferson County, citing the potential for compromising water quality in the Ogeechee and in the Floridian aquifer that supplies drinking water for Jefferson County and parts of south Georgia and north Florida.
The press release noted recent research indicating that sewage sludge may contain pathogens, diseases and viruses.
Also cited was the potential for harm to the federally protected animal species that inhabit the Ogeechee River and its tributaries in Jefferson County.
Hudson co-owner Richard Hudson said last month that his company's intention was to apply the biosolids (also known as sludge) on the Horseshoe Road property in lieu of fertilizer.
In a letter to Jefferson County commissioners, Hudson said he had a problem with Day asserting that sludge hurts county citizens, businesses and natural surroundings since there is no scientific proof of the claim. Hudson said his business continues to be beneficial to the county rather than being a burden.
"Our company contributes significantly to the local economy," he said last month. "We spend approximately $160,000 annually with local businesses, we have invested more than $1.5 million in property on which we pay taxes and we have purchased a total of $1.2 million in equipment from local farm equipment dealers."
Hudson told commissioners that the land application of sludge is a legal, regulated process that occurs everyday across America.
He said he had no problem with citizen opposition as long as his right to conduct business in accordance with the regulations is respected.
One year later, Farrer's disappearance still unsolved
• Recent findings include a copy of a letter, allegedly written by Farrer
By Ben Nelms
It was a year ago this month that the largest sustained search in Jefferson County history began for missing Louisville resident Bill "Bo Peep" Farrer.
To this day, the questions of family and friends remain unanswered. Leads surrounding the disappearance have been scarce and investigators know virtually nothing more now than the day Farrer vanished.
The possibility that the 66 year-old Farrer was missing came initially when his truck and boat were discovered at his favorite fishing hole along the banks of Rocky Comfort Creek at 1 p.m. on Friday, September 13, 2002. Farrer's boat was found by Adam McNeely, one of the people who leased the property for hunting.
Farrer's boat was found front end down, apparently having been pulled over a fallen tree that sat near the center of a 200-yard area of the creek that resembled a misshaped S.
The front end of the boat was in the water with all Farrer's fishing gear intact, while the rear of the boat rested on the fallen tree, between one and two feet above the water line. Farrer's truck was parked at the little boat landing 100 yards upstream, keys and shotgun inside.
The only potential piece of evidence putting Farrer at the scene was a single photograph of his truck taken by a game camera positioned near the creek.
The private road leads from the creek to an entrance on Clarks Mill Road. Examination of the photograph to determine whether the driver was Farrer was inconclusive, investigators said.
Everything Farrer needed to spend an afternoon fishing was there. The only thing missing was the man.
Though little has surfaced in the case, investigators are currently exploring a potential lead furnished by a Jefferson County woman who saw two trucks and three men engaged in a conversation at the entrance to the Clarks Mill Road property during the week Farrer disappeared.
Rocky Comfort searched
She identified one of the men as Farrer or one of his relatives who possesses similar physical features.
A new development with an uncertain bearing on the case involves a handwritten letter found Sept. 12, exactly one year to the day Bo Peep disappeared.
The letter was found by a relative at Farrer's Bermuda Drive residence. Verified as Farrer's handwriting, the undated letter was written to a woman unknown to some family members and includes references to a total of five other people.
The letter suggests that two of the unnamed people were planning to deliver a message and a tape to another man. Farrer indicated that he did not want to be a part of that process.
Sheriff's investigators and GBI agents have received copies of the letter.
The effort to locate Farrer on the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2002, began quickly by friends who believed he had possibly fallen and struck his head while pulling the boat over the fallen tree. Frantic efforts by friends converging on the scene were obvious as they trudged through the three to five feet-deep water to locate the man they believed had drowned. Those attempts and the decision by law enforcement to treat the incident as a search and rescue scene rather than a crime scene met with substantial criticism in the community because the two dozen people in and around the water by nightfall had potentially contaminated the scene. Those present early at the scene that Friday afternoon knew only that they had to attempt to find their friend.
Away from the creek
Described as a healthy man in good physical condition, friends at the scene considered that Farrer might have either succumbed to the water due to a fall or snakebite or would be found dazed and wandering in the thick woods and marsh. Yet even on the first day of the search many wondered why Farrer would have deviated from his norm at Rocky Comfort Creek, why he would have gone fishing so late in the afternoon and why he apparently left the gate open at the front of the property. These variables and others seemed to many of those who knew him to be out of character for a man known to be so meticulous, with a place for everything and everything in its place. Other friends and family wondered why the fishing tackle seemed to be arranged so neatly in the front of the boat after being pulled over the fallen tree and why Farrer's hat was still in the boat.
What began that Friday afternoon picked up early Saturday morning with a mass of volunteers assembling at the Clarks Mill Road entrance to the creek. A canine search team, dive teams and countless friends put in their first full day of searching for the man who never met a stranger. Areas upstream and downstream were searched by dive teams in the water and along the creek banks by anxious friends and other volunteers. But by mid-afternoon the rains came with a vengeance and the depth of the creek rapidly began to swell uncontrollably. Inquiries throughout the community by law enforcement showed that Farrer had been last seen the afternoon of Sept. 12.
Rains continued into the following day but the searchers would not be deterred. Long days of searching turned into weeks. During that time the 50-100 local volunteers at the site each day lent unprecedented assistance in the attempt to locate their friend. Also at the scene were volunteer K-9 search units from Jesup, St. Petersburg, Chattanooga, Nashville, Waynesboro and Atlanta and dive teams from Burke, Washington, Columbia, McDuffie, Lincoln, Hart and Elbert counties, a Chattanooga dive team and two independent blackwater divers from Ft. Stewart and Brunswick. Many of the dog handlers and divers were stunned at the mass of volunteers and donated food, equipment and supplies that continued to pour in to the search site.
The magnitude of that landmark search expanded again during the third week. The state allowed the temporary diversion of one-third mile of the creek after cadaver dogs gave continuous "alerts" in the area where Farrer's boat was found and dive teams were unable to locate a body. Local farmers and businesses from Jefferson County, Thomson, Augusta and Savannah donated $3 million of heavy equipment and the necessary manpower to construct a 1,500-foot channel to divert the creek. Irrigation pumps were used to evacuate the remaining water. But with only few inches of water remaining in some areas of Rocky Comfort and dry creek bed in the remainder, still there was no Bo Peep Farrer.
The first of three organized searches for the missing man ended after 18 straight days at Rocky Comfort Creek.
Concurrent with the unsuccessful searches at Rocky Comfort, sheriff's investigators and GBI agents produced numerous facts, but none that could account for Farrer's whereabouts. A check of his house indicated a neatly kept home where nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Investigators could not reach any definitive conclusions about the absence of bank statements, bills and junk mail or the presence of a set of dentures.
Back to Rocky Comfort
Interviews with people owing him a total of $11,800 produced no leads, investigators said. Nor did a check of his bank account or credit card. He received no retirement from his former employer. To his family's surprise, it was found that Farrer had never filed to receive Social Security even though he was eligible for the benefit. Subsequent contacts with his credit card company showed no activity for many weeks after his disappearance.
The search for Farrer continued in December and again in mid-January. K-9 teams from Jesup and St. Petersburg returned, joined by teams from Eatonton, New Jersey and Connecticut. Dive teams also arrived from Eatonton, Washington County and Nashville.
In a greatly expanded search of the area, water and land were searched with the help of global positioning satellites and infrared cameras. Divers established search grids and worked them with patience and deliberation. Cadaver dogs, officers and volunteers covered large areas of ground on both sides of the creek, hoping to discover some trace of the missing man. Yet for all the work of those involved, the mystery of Farrer's disappearance proved as elusive as the first day of the search in mid-September.
The searches of the creek and surrounding terrain concluded Jan. 14. Family and friends found it difficult to believe that no trace of Bo Peep was found. Many in the community believed, as they had from beginning, that Bill Farrer had not drown Sept. 12 and that his disappearance had little to do with his favorite fishing hole at Rocky Comfort Creek.
Throughout the search, in the months to follow and to this day, only three general possibilities could account for Farrer's disappearance. Bo Peep Farrer either met with an accidental death or committed suicide or staged the scene in order to leave town or met with foul play.
The exhaustive land and water searches essentially ruled out the theory of accidental death. Even the idea that Farrer had walked some distance away and committed suicide became less tenable due to the fruitless ground searches, the presence of only one or two buzzards flying in the area even weeks after the disappearance and the passage of a year of hunting seasons.
Speculation that Farrer had walked away also came to a dead end. His family was able to verify that he had not boarded a Delta flight to Hawaii on the days following his disappearance, as some had suspected. Also evident would have been the requirement that someone assist his departure. Yet in a small community where word quickly travels, not a whisper has been uttered. Even if he had walked away, many of his friends and family believe he would have returned for his mother's funeral in May.
The final possible scenario, more disturbing than the others, is one of foul play. Central to that possibility in the minds of some was Farrer's report in February, 2002, that he had been attacked by two men with a stun gun at the entrance to the property on Clarks Mill Road. Another variable in the foul play scenario involves the statement made by Farrer in the months prior to his disappearance that he had discovered marijuana under cultivation in the vicinity of property where he fished.
The case of Bill Farrer's disappearance remains open. Sheriff Gary Hutchins requested last week that anyone with information relating to the case contact his office at (478) 625-7538.
A year has come and gone since friends and family saw Bo Peep Farrer. The man may have vanished but the mystery of his disappearance did not. It remains.
Jefferson millage rates to be set
• School board increases 1 mill, county keeps rate at 12.69 mills ay for Sheriff deputies' vehicles
By Ben Nelms
The details have yet to be worked out but a sea change in traffic enforcement in Jefferson County is on the horizon. Sheriff's deputies will soon begin using radar to hold down excessive speeds along the Fall Line Freeway and other roads in Jefferson County.
Jefferson County's school board and county commission are set to hold public hearings on the proposed millage rates coming soon to county taxpayers.
The school board decided to offset its funding shortfall by adding one mill while the commission will see a minor increase in revenues even though the millage rate will remain the same as last year.
The school board voted 4-0 in their Sept. 25 meeting to increase the millage rate from 12.88 mills to 13.88. Superintendent Carl Bethune and board members cited past, current and future state spending cuts as being responsible for the increase.
"The state FY 2003 initial budget was based on an expectation of a three percent increase in revenues; but actual state revenue collections in FY 2003 were $340 million below FY 2002," said Bethune. "Because of this shortfall in state revenue collections, state funding for school systems and other state agencies were substantially reduced for the past year and for this year. For the Jefferson County School System, this resulted in 'austerity reductions' in state funding in excess of $1.5 million for FY 2003 and FY 2004 combined. Jefferson County is expecting another $350,000 cut in January."
Bethune said 80 percent of school system funding comes from the state rather than local sources. While the increase to local taxpayers was something the board wanted to avoid, they concluded that there was no choice but to raise the millage rate due to the state's decision to cut funding.
"Approximately four-fifths of the school system's budgeted expenditures are funded by state allotment," said Bethune. "Yet only one-fifth of the school system's funding comes from local property taxes. State cuts have a tremendous impact on our local system's budget."
Even with the one mill increase board members acknowledged that the additional funds will likely leave the school system short by $328,230.
Jefferson County commissioners voted 5-0 last week to keep the county's millage steady at 12.69 mills. Public hearings will be required only because, once adjusted for personal property exemptions and property put into conservation, the net taxes increased $21,478, or one-half percent over to last year.