McLemore Cove

McLemore Cove

Is McLemore Cove Preservation Society the villain as described recently by the Walker County Commissioner or is it a group of people trying to do good for the County? This article takes a closer look at this organization and its impact on the community.

McLemore Cove Preservation Society (MCPS) has a long history of helping the people of the McLemore Cove area preserve its unique natural beauty for future generations. The Society was created in the 1980s when Oglethorpe Power Company sought to submerge a portion of the Cove under several feet of water to form a lake. The farmers, teachers, nurses, and local businessmen who lived in the Cove fought and defeated that effort to destroy their land.

Having succeeded at “preserving” the Cove, the Society looked for other ways to help. For example, they promoted recycling at the County landfill as a way to help save resources and bring an additional source of revenue to the County. In fact, the Society has always supported business in Walker County because its members are business men and business women. Many are famers that raise livestock, grow crops, manage dairy farms, or raise chickens on land their family has owned for generations. Others create unique family-run businesses such as summer camps, homemade crafts, give horseback riding lessons, or even host festivals.

Many of these business men and women became “environmentalists” when Reichhold Chemical Company had a major explosion sending a toxic chemical cloud through the Cove. Some of its members formed a neighborhood environmental watch group to do environmental and health research. They helped attorneys fight for those residents who suffered from chemical pneumonia and had lost livestock. They also worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Department of Natural Resources to locate and clean up local toxic Superfund sites and illegal waste dumps.

Born out of this type of research and knowledge, many members learned how fragile is this small Cove of green pastures and winding lanes surrounded by Pigeon and Lookout Mountain. Its creeks flow from mountain streams with rare and threatened species of fish and other freshwater creek inhabitants. A place so special it is on the National Database of Historic Places.

The Society stopped holding meetings about the time Walker County purchased Mountain Cove Farm, located at the head of the Cove, as a tourist destination and venue for the County Fair and weddings. What brought new life to the Society was a news story on WQCH radio station in Lafayette that Pilgrim’s Pride was moving to the county and the County development office was involved. At the same time, Drennon Crutchfield, owner of the long defunct former Barwick carpet mill site in Kensington, told people that Pilgrim’s Pride had an option to purchase his 300 acres there. Pilgrim’s Pride employees and former employees also talked about the company placing a bid on the property, but they requested anonymity.

In response to questions about the plant, Commission Whitfield stated that they could not disclose information under the terms of a nondisclosure agreement. Seeing a new need for an organization to fight a perceived backdoor deal that would destroy all they had worked to preserve, these residents reincorporated MCPS and began to hold meetings. As one of its leaders, Stephanie Everett says, “For more than 100 years the Everett Family has called McLemore Cove ‘home.’ This is a beautiful, vibrant and durable community. It is our community’s rights and requests for respect that the McLemore Cove Preservation Society is seeking acknowledgement and action for at this time.”

The new MCPS President is Ruth Almeter. Although she and her family just moved to the Cove two months ago, they first “visited and fell in love with the Cove” two years ago. She says, “It reminds us of the Shenandoah Valley which is where we would escape to on the weekends from DC. The Cove is stunning. The crown jewel of Walker County. My husband and I did our research and we knew the financial straits of the County, and we wanted to be a part of the solution. To invest in the Cove, the county, the community and work on getting the county back in the black. I strongly disagree with bringing a dirty low wage paying industry to the Cove. It’s a lose-lose, it will diminish current and future economic growth and will pollute and destroy the natural resources and surrounding beauty. It’s not a question of ‘if’ they will contaminate the water, it’s a matter of when and how much.”

MCPS filed an injunction against the sale of the property in an effort to lift the cloak of secrecy in which the Walker County Development Committees had hidden their negotiations with Pilgrim Pride. However, after Walker County Commissioner Whitfield released a video to the press attacking MCPS and encouraging residents to contact its members, they became the object of hostility. One angry resident posted Ms. Everett’s personal contact information on the internet. The members decided to show their good faith by withdrawing the petition.

McLemore Cove Preservation Society does not claim to represent all residents of the Cove. Its open community meetings have sometimes been an occasion for debates among differing viewpoints. For example, one long time Cove Resident who prefers to not be named disagrees with the MCPS stance. She says of the Pilgrim’s Pride issue, “It is privately owned property and he has the right to do with it what he wants to.” She does not think the fumes would come very far into the Cove or be very strong.

However, those who lead the new group say that the plant would devalue property, cost the taxpayers in constant road repairs, and lose the County the ever increasing tourist industry in the Cove. Ms. Almeter says of the group’s future, “Moving forward, MCPS will continue to work in the hopes that Pilgrim’s Pride will abandon plans to move to the Cove and in the event they move here, MCPS will be vigilant in their oversight of Pilgrim’s Pride. Groups of private citizens across the country have been successful in legal action against slaughterhouses that have polluted their water sources and air and MCPS will consider that option if necessary. Hopefully we never have to cross that bridge.”

Joan Hetzler lives in the Cove and is a former member the McLemore Cove Preservation Society. She can be reached by email at joan@joanhetzler.com.