VALDOSTA -- Commissioners unanimously approved new standards and specifications for county fire hydrants and valves.

Utilities Director Mike Allen brought the request before the Board, noting that current standards were minimal and loose and new requirements would increase the life expectancy of the items and reduce costs.

Allen estimated the new specifications could clip replacement and maintenance costs by as much as 95 percent. Corrosion is a primary concern for hydrants and valves, and the new standards require stainless steel be used to guard against that damage.

The Board's action does not mandate wholesale replacement, but requires that new hydrants meet the higher standards.

Commissioners also unanimously denied a request from the County Engineer to pursue grant money from the Georgia Recreational Trails Program. The grant would have been used to purchase land along the Withlacoochee River for a trail to be used for hiking and non-motorized vehicles.

Commission Chairman Rod Casey said he had received a letter from a property owner in the area who opposed a trail for the public on his property. Commissioners were inclined to table the item until discussions could be held with the property owner, but Charlie Clark, county engineer, told them the application deadline would pass prior to the Board's next meeting.

Casey said that the short time frame left the Board with no choice.

"It was kind of a pop-up, short notice grant," he said. "While it was attractive to us, we just didn't feel ready to go forward with it because we had not really talked to the city or to the property owners about it ... If we had longer to look at it, we'd have been happy to (work on it), but on short notice, it would have been sort of a knee-jerk reaction."

Commissioners did approve an unrelated Greenspace item, voting unanimously to apply for a Georgia Greenspace Wildlife Recreation grant to provide nature based recreation on currently owned Greenspace lands.

The targeted project is the Department of Natural Resources' longleaf pine "classroom" at the Grand Bay interpretive center. The grant would provide $25,000 to enhance that project. The local contribution would be from Recreation SPLOST funds in the amount of $5,000.

A three-mile trail system is already being developed, and officials would use grant funds to construct a 1,024 square-foot outdoor classroom/interpretive center to house various displays showing the historical and biological importance of longleaf pines and associated plants and animals.

Completion date is targeted for August, 2003.

The Commission also unanimously approved a special exception request from Doran Bland allowing him to operate a small, portable sawmill on his property, located just east of Clyattville.

Some people had expressed concerns over the size, noise and traffic from the operation, but Bland brought more than 20 supporters to the meeting who favored the sawmill.

Both staff planners with the South Georgia Regional Development Center and the Greater Lowndes Planning Commission recommended approval of the request.

The Board approved the exception on the condition that it be granted in the name of the applicant only, that only one portable bandsaw -- not classified as an industrial product by its manufacturer -- be allowed, that operation be limited only to daylight hours, that the operation be set back at least 150 feet and that only the Blands or up to two helpers in emergency cases be allowed to operate the saw.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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