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Collins won't run for Senate or Georgia governor in 2022

ATLANTA — Republican former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, a favorite of former President Donald Trump, says he doesn’t plan to run for governor or U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2022.

Collins’ announcement Monday makes it less likely there will be a top-drawer Republican primary challenger to Gov. Brian Kemp. In the separate U.S. Senate race, it could open the way for other Republicans who have been considering a run for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who will also be up for reelection in 2022.

Collins ran unsuccessfully for the seat Warnock ultimately won last year. He was Trump’s choice to succeed U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired. But Kemp instead appointed business executive Kelly Loeffler.

Collins finished third in an all-party special election in November, with Loeffler and Warnock advancing to a January runoff that Warnock won. His victory, along with Democrat Jon Ossoff’s runoff victory over incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, tipped control of the Senate to Democrats.

Collins didn’t rule out a future run, saying he would continue “shaping our conservative message to help Republicans win back the House and the Senate and help more strong conservative candidates get elected here in Georgia.”

“For those who may wonder, this is goodbye for now, but probably not forever,” Collins wrote.

Collins served four terms in Congress representing northeast Georgia’s 9th District, one of the nation’s most conservative congressional districts. He’s a lawyer, Baptist minister and Air Force reservist. Collins joined a Habersham County law firm and started a radio talk show after he left the House, where he was succeeded by gun dealer Andrew Clyde. The 54-year-old Collins was earlier a Georgia state representative.

As the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins gained national notice as a vociferous Trump defender during the former president’s first impeachment, claiming it was a “sham” and part of an attempted coup to remove Trump.

“I fought each and every day to uphold our constitutional rights and the freedoms we cherish,” Collins said of his service on Judiciary.

Former Democrat Vernon Jones and Appling County teacher Kandiss Taylor have announced Republican primary bids against Kemp. But other Republicans have been shying away from challenging Kemp.

The incumbent governor’s forceful advocacy on behalf of the sweeping election bill he signed into law has helped improve his standing with Republicans who felt he didn’t do enough to challenge President Joe Biden’s win of Georgia’s 16 electoral votes. Some Republicans still remain unhappy with Kemp, though, as shown by some county Republican conventions that passed resolutions criticizing him last month.

Collins would have been an instant favorite among Republicans jockeying to challenge Warnock, who has to defend his seat in 2022 because there were only two years remaining on Isakson’s term. Warnock is gearing up for a heavy-duty race, having raised $5.7 million in campaign funds between Jan. 6 and March 31.

Navy veteran Latham Saddler and Marietta contractor Kelvin King have announced Republican Senate bids, with U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler acknowledging he’s considering it.

Trump has in recent weeks been urging former University of Georgia football great Herschel Walker to run for Senate, an early indicator that Collins might not run. State Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, has also been rumored as a possible candidate for various offices including governor and in the Senate.

Halfway done, Georgia shipwreck demolition has months to go

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Demolition of a cargo ship that overturned on the Georgia coast reached the halfway mark Monday as a towering crane lifted the vessel’s engine room section away from the rest of the shipwreck for removal by barge.

The South Korean freighter Golden Ray capsized soon after leaving the Port of Brunswick on Sept. 8, 2019. Work to remove the ship by cutting it into eight giant chunks began nearly six months ago in November.

The multi-agency command in charge of the salvage told reporters Monday the job won’t be finished any time soon. They plan to keep working well into the Atlantic hurricane season that starts June 1.

“We’re definitely going to be here for several more months,” said Mauricio Garrido, president of T&T Salvage, the salvage contractor hired to dismantle the wreck. “It would be tough to pin down a date.”

Before demolition began, the Golden Ray measured 656 feet (199 meters) long, too big to remove intact. Experts soon settled on a plan to carve the ship into eight massive chunks, each weighing up to 4,100 tons (3,720 metric tonnes).

Crews have straddled the ship with a floating crane that uses a winch and pulley system attached to 400 feet (122 meters) of anchor chain to tear through the ship’s hull with brute force.

The command initially predicted demolition t o take only about eight weeks. But it’s gone far slower.

The engine room section — the fourth to be cut away — by far proved the toughest. Crews began cutting on that section in February, and had to pause several times as its thicker, fortified steel snapped links used to connect the cutting chain and forced extensive maintenance.

They moved on to cut away a different chunk on the opposite end of the ship in March before resuming the engine room cut, which wrapped up over the weekend.

Three more cuts have to me made to divide the wreck into its final four pieces.

“It would be unrealistic to expect the next three cuts will go flawlessly,” Garrido said. “I expect we will have new challenges.”

The wreck site is surrounded by a mesh barrier intended to contain debris for cleanup once the big sections get removed. Boats equipped with skimmers and absorbent booms stay on standby to mop up any leaking oil or other pollutants.

The latest cut severed the ship’s fuel line near the engine room. Though most of the fuel had been siphoned from the ship before demolition began, officials estimated up to 44,000 gallons could remain. Workers spotted some oily discharges and sheen after the engine room was cut away, and those were rapidly cleaned up. But no major leaks had been reported.

“The impact to the environment as a whole has been less significant than we feared,” said Doug Hayman, director of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The Golden Ray’s cargo decks held roughly 4,200 vehicles when it capsized. The multi-agency command estimates roughly 1,000 of those cars have been recovered, either by plucking them from the ship’s open ends using a mechanical claw or by fishing them out of the water.

Meanwhile, about 2,700 pounds of debris from the wreck — largely auto parts including rear bumpers, roof mounts and cupholders — have been collected by crews surveying the shoreline, said Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems, the company working on the salvage operation on behalf of the ship’s owner, Hyundai Glovis.

Last year, the coronavirus pandemic and a busy hurricane season caused the multiagency command to push back the start of demolition operations by several months from mid-July to early November.

Salvage workers have been sequestered at a nearby resort and only 30 virus infections have been reported out of about 7,500 who have worked on the wreck site, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez.

He said crews are prepared to work through the hurricane season, pausing only if a storm threatens the Georgia coast. The portion of the ship that remains partly submerged off St. Simons Island appears stable enough to withstand severe weather, he said, and crews will be able to fan out and recover any scattered debris if necessary once a storm passes.

“We have no intention of shutting down operations for the hurricane season,” Lopez said.

Plant Vogtle expansion hits two key milestones

ATLANTA — Georgia Power Co. has achieved two important milestones in the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, the Atlanta-based utility announced Monday.

Hot functional testing has begun on the first of the new reactors, Unit 3, at the plant south of Augusta. That’s the final series of major tests the reactor must pass prior to initial fuel load.

Hot functional testing is conducted to confirm whether the reactor is ready for the loading of fuel.

During the next six to eight weeks, operators will use the heat generated by Unit 3’s four reactor coolant pumps to raise the temperature and pressure of plant systems to normal operating levels. At that point, the unit’s main turbine will be raised to normal operating speed, allowing operators to exercise and validate procedures required prior to fuel loading.

Meanwhile, all modules for both units 3 and 4 have now been set with the lifting into place of a 720,000-pound water tank atop Unit 4’s containment vessel, the last major crane lift at the project site.

The tank, which stands 35 feet tall, will hold about 750,000 gallons of water ready to help cool the reactor in case of an emergency.

Unit 3 was due to go into service this November but could be delayed by a month or more, according to an announcement from Georgia Power last month. Unit 4 is scheduled to begin operations late next year.

Expected to cost about $14 billion when the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the project in 2009, the price tag of the nuclear expansion has nearly doubled primarily due to the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric, the original prime contractor.

The project’s critics have long argued Georgia Power should pursue renewable energy more aggressively and stop investing in nuclear power.

Both Georgia Power executives and members of the PSC have countered that Georgia must be able to rely on a diverse range of power-generating options to keep electric rates affordable.

The first two nuclear reactors built at Plant Vogtle went into service during the late 1980s.