THE WORST sort of pollution any community ever faces is when words are used as turds to create a stench that keeps progress away. 

It is happening in Greater Rome right now and has stalled the arrival of probably a thousand or more jobs and millions of dollars in added property/sales tax revenues that already ought to be here.

Enough already! It is time to tell Joe Cook in particular, the executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, to go jump into a creek other than Burwell. This would be for his own safety as Burwell is home only to stunted trash fish, runs through an abandoned landfill, and while indeed a seasonal “wetland” is also clearly a mosquito breeding ground. 

When a CRBI broadside opposing the proposed Citi Center shopping center development on Riverside Parkway recently featured children splashing happily in the muddy backwaters of the Oosta naula River into which Burwell empties, the only thought generated should have been: Pray those kids are current on all their shots.

Yet that is actually only a small informational turd in the endless outpouring.

INDEED IT IS getting difficult to tell whether Cook/CRBI or the Rollins family in Cartersville that has stalled the U.S. 411 Connector for 30 years has been the most harmful to the Floyd County economy over a long period of time. The edge probably still goes to Rollins, but it is worth noting that the tactics used are exactly the same: Invoking state and federal regulatory hurdles to delay decisions, filing or threatening court action, alleging harm to dubious scenic wonders, mobilizing a “public outcry” that otherwise would not arise on its own.

And, just like the Rollins bunch, Cook increasingly presents himself as willing to compromise while actually threatening dire action if his way is not victorious.

That is why, in public forums on the matter, city officials increasingly have to tell Cook to sit down, shut up, stop making threats and get serious about working toward a compromise. The other day it was Kim Canada, chairman of Rome’s Redevelopment Committee. Three months ago it was Mayor Evie McNiece who told Cook to shape up and get with an effort on which, frankly, developer Ledbetter Properties has already met the CRBI more than halfway.

In fact, it was a bit sad hearing Wright Ledbetter, the chief operating officer, tell city officials regarding the new environmental study forced upon the firm: “Essentially we’re having to start over. We do have a long process ahead of us.” That means those jobs, increased property values, taxes and more-varied shopping opportunities Greater Romans have long been asking for will have to wait as well.

MEANWHILE Cook tells Rome leaders that CRBI is asking for only 6 percent more of the city-owned property involved to create walking trails linking Ridge Ferry Park with Jackson Hill — something already agreed to by the Ledbetters — while, in his latest formal argument (posted as a PDF attached to this editorial) he stresses his belief there are plenty of better places to put a shopping complex, like using all the empty spaces at Mount Berry Square. 

As the only job Cook has created is his own — the CRBI is a nonprofit that uses this issue as a major fundraiser — he may be excused for not knowing that enclosed malls and open-air shopping strips woo and win very different major retailers. The mall’s new owner sure doesn’t need this kind of advice nor to be put into the middle of this either.

Cook also suggests tearing down or converting the “eyesore” old Tubize/Celanese textile complex as space for the Ledbetter project. That may be the only successful major conversion in Northwest Georgia of an old mill into an industrial complex — with hundreds of jobs. Right ... tear it down. While keeping new jobs from arriving, might as well work to get rid of the existing ones as well?

Rotten ideas like wasteful words also emit a stench.

CRBI has done, and is doing, good work in increasing awareness of this region’s streams, monitoring their health, promoting their value and uniqueness. That is its role. If it wishes to become a real-estate developer then it should say so and surrender its tax-exempt status.

AT THE SAME time, it was good to hear the Ledbetters, a regional development powerhouse that began as a family startup in Rome, aren’t about to give up. They never have given up on this community’s prospects.

All the multi-generational Ledbetter principals are Romans. They live here, are raising their families and children here. They have already, just in their hometown, created perhaps more jobs and tax revenue than most of the better-known companies, colleges, hospitals. 

Just as a reminder: The Ledbetters built the Riverbend, MidTown Crossing, RiverWalk shopping centers — and more — with their hundreds of jobs, shopping opportunities, and added incomes and tax revenues. They are also environmentally aware — for example raising Riverbend out of the flood plain at considerable cost before proceeding.

Sure, the Ledbetters have made money leasing the desirable spaces they create, but they also have invested considerable personal time and financial support into a wide array of efforts aimed not at generating profits but rather for making Greater Rome a better place to live. Frankly, they have earned better treatment from their neighbors than nit-picking and invented obstacle courses. 

Heck, put all of the creek into a culvert — like they did to build the Mall of Georgia and with three long-forgotten streams beneath Rome’s downtown. Nobody would really notice in a community that already appears to have way, way more trees in it than it does residents.

IT MAY BE useful to remember there is not a square inch of the planet not available to mankind to live upon, work upon, find subsistence from. At least that is what it says in Genesis 1:28 (KJV): “God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 

Until Cook does a rewrite changing both the authority and that subdue, it is thus pretty plain who should win this one.

It is time for the city to simply cut the CRBI out of the loop and proceed, if the Ledbetter plans are feasible. 


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