In Cherokee County, failed lumber plant still haunts candidates - CBS46 News

In Cherokee County, failed lumber plant still haunts candidates

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Lumber recycling plant near Canton Lumber recycling plant near Canton

Two candidates seeking re-election on the Cherokee County Commission are hoping voters will not hold against them the failure of a lumber recycling plant, off Highway 5 near Canton. The plant failed two years ago after its owner went out of business, leaving the county on the hook for monthly payments of $100,000 through 2037.

"In the end, it's been a disaster for us," said District Three Commissioner Brian Poole. "We have a plant that's doing nothing, but it's costing the taxpayers $100,000 a month."

Poole was not on the commission when the 30-year, $18 million deal was hatched nearly a decade ago. Two of the commissioners who voted in favor of that agreement, Chairman Buzz Ahrens and Commissioner Harry Johnston, are still on the commission and are seeking re-election in 2014.

Their first test comes in the form of Tuesday's primary election.

"I think the good people are with me," said Johnston, adding he feels exonerated by a recent audit that found no criminal or ethical wrong-doing on the part of the commission in approving the lumber plant deal.

"The audit indicated absolutely no wrong-doing by the commissioners, as we full well knew," said Johnston. "Because we have done nothing wrong."

The audit was recommended by a Cherokee County grand jury in 2012. Several members of that grand jury signed on to a statement, saying they did not believe the commissioners were fully exonerated via the audit report.

"In no way did we completely exonerate those involved in this situation," wrote the grand jury members. "The Ball Ground Recycling situation involves matters of grave concern to the Citizens of Cherokee County with regards to their government, and we wish to dispel any talk to the otherwise."

"The grand jury was critical of some of the handling of the deal," said Johnston. "We had one thing go poorly over the last 14 years (since I took office), but hasn't everyone had something go poorly at some point?"

The FBI was also involved in the investigation into the lumber recycling plant operation. An FBI spokesman declined comment when asked about the case.

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