Construction on a major road-widening project roughly 20 years in the making is set to get underway early next year.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 14 approved a $19,696,149.90 contract with CMES Inc. to widen Lee Road from Interstate 20 to Highway 92.
“We anticipate the construction will start in early 2022; with the first activities being clearing of the right of way and relocation of utilities,” said Miguel Valentin, transportation director for the county.
Valentin told commissioners during a Dec. 13 work session that to his knowledge the project is the largest “handled directly by the county in the county’s history.”
He noted other larger projects including Interstate 20 and the Highway 92 bypass were managed either by the federal government or the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“This is a big and exciting day for me and for the county,” Valentin said.
Valentin said the cost of the project with design, which started in the early 2000s, will be more than $30 million.
He said the project to make Lee Road four lanes spans about 2 ½ miles. He said about $14.3 million of the total costs will be paid for using federal and state money. He said there is “sufficient funding” from the county’s 2016 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) to move forward.
GDOT recently gave its final approval to award the contract for construction.
The Lee Road widening is part of a larger project to create a Southern Inner Arc in the county, using Bomar Road to connect to Chapel Hill Road.
Friends, family and colleagues packed Sam & Rosco’s on Tuesday evening to show their appreciation for Chief Superior Court Judge David T. Emerson.
Emerson will hang up his robe for a final time on Friday and begin his retirement after 31 years on the bench in Douglas County.
Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to appoint Emerson’s replacement — either Chief Assistant District Attorney Deah Warren or Associate Juvenile Judge Talia Nurse — in the coming days.
A portrait of Emerson was unveiled at the start of a roughly 30 minute program Tuesday.
The local bar presented Emerson with a photo of the courthouse signed by members.
Superior Court Judge Cynthia C. Adams presented Emerson with an inscribed statue of Lady Justice on behalf of herself and fellow Superior Court Judge William H. “Beau” McClain.
McClain introduced Emerson, listing the “measure of a man” of his friend and fellow jurist, and occasionally bantering with one of Emerson’s young granddaughters.
“Samuel Johnson once said that the true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good,” McClain told Emerson at the end of his introduction. “That is the kind of judge that we have had in you. And you’ll be greatly missed. But as you leave us, sir, let our applause ring in your head and let our thanks reside in your heart.”
Emerson spoke briefly about his love for the county and its people. He said he had worked hard with other judges across the state to improve the justice system.
“I’ve been blessed to get the opportunity to contribute to that,” Emerson said. “And if I’ve done a good job here, and I hope I have, it’s been my great joy to do that.”
McClain noted that Emerson and his wife Carol have been married 43 years and have three children and nine grandchildren.
Emerson has spent his entire 45-year professional career in Douglas County, having practiced law for 15 years before being elected in 1990.
He became chief judge of the Douglas Judicial Circuit after Judge Robert J. James retired at the end of 2016.
McClain pointed out Tuesday that Emerson was only the third chief judge in the Douglas Judicial Circuit’s 40-year history. Judge Robert J. Noland was the first chief judge of the Douglas circuit when it was formed in the early ‘80s.
“That to me is a testament to the competence, ethics and professionalism of the Douglas Judicial Circuit which is exemplified by our superior court, our state court, our magistrate court and our juvenile court. Because we’ve always gotten along with each other in no small thanks to Judge Emerson and Judge James and Judge Howe and many others,” said McClain, who will become the Douglas circuit’s fourth chief judge on Jan. 1, 2022.
McClain said that another measure of a man is how he’s regarded by his peers. McClain talked about Emerson’s service as past president of the Council of Superior Court Judges, which governs all superior court judges in the state. He said Emerson has “trained hundreds of judges” at judicial conferences.
He also talked about Emerson’s technological expertise, which the court system has utilized heavily since COVID-19 began. McClain said the county’s three superior court judges had resolved 3,640 criminal and civil cases this year, frequently using video to communicate with the parties.
“We had something that no one else had,” McClain said. “We had Judge David T. Emerson, who is the acknowledged judicial leader in the entire state of Georgia when it comes to technology. What I like to call a total computer nerd.”
State Court Judge Brian Fortner, formerly the county’s district attorney, has known Emerson for more than 20 years.
“I have tried cases in front of him and worked with him to address many issues facing our community. I have always found him to be well informed on the law and determined to do the right thing regardless of the opinion of others. He has been a steady leader for the bench during the COVID pandemic. Judge Emerson has always been known as a judge that follows the law no matter what. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He has served Douglas County well and he will be missed,” Fortner told the Sentinel.
District Attorney Dalia Racine also had high praise for Emerson.
“Judge Emerson has been a pillar of the legal community for over three decades. He has been steadfast in his commitment to fairly doing justice for all. We will miss his steady presence on the bench,” she said.
Judge James, who attended Tuesday’s gathering for Emerson, once said that being a judge “is a form of isolation,” something with which Emerson said he is familiar.
“Judging is a very lonely job,” Emerson said. “Fortunately I have always had good judicial colleagues including Judge Bob James, Judge Don Howe and Judge Neal Dettmering throughout the 30-plus years with whom I could discuss the challenging legal issues that came up along the way.”
Emerson, on a break from a recent jury trial, said he decided to run for judge in 1990 because he felt the county needed someone with both criminal and civil experience.
Emerson was also asked about what he deemed the most memorable moment of his career.
“My most memorable moment as a judge was the day the Turner Construction Company’s crane successfully set the crown on the courthouse dome in place on the first try,” he said. “I don’t know what our county justice system would have done if we had not built our current facility.”
Asked what he will miss most, he said he’ll miss his “staff and my colleagues as well as the opportunity to serve our community.”
“As I told the governor in my resignation letter, it’s been the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve the people of Douglas County since 1991 as one of their superior court judges,” he said.
McClain said he has known Emerson since he was in private practice more than three decades ago. When Emerson was elected, McClain — then an assistant district attorney — was assigned to be lead prosecutor in Emerson’s courtroom.
“It didn’t take him long to become an excellent judge and one of the things I liked most about him was that if you made a sound legal argument he would always rule with you, because he was a scholar of the law,” McClain told the Sentinel. “He is also a man of deep conviction, Christian faith, and unwavering principle. He has always declared what the law is instead of making decisions with regard to politics, something that we seem to be losing these days.”
McClain added: “It’s a unique experience to try numerous cases before a judge and then later become his colleague on the bench. At every turn Judge Emerson was there to make me a better judge than I could have ever been without him. We are about to lose 45 years of legal experience which is priceless and irreplaceable. The courthouse is not going to be the same without him, but I am certain he will still find ways to contribute in retirement and will remain a devoted resident of our community, which he and his wife love very much.”
sPECIAL TO THE SENTINEL
Douglasville resident Yolanda Pate will be one of four Honda women leaders aboard Honda’s “Believe and Achieve!” Rose Parade float on Jan. 1, 2022.
Honda is celebrating science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education and is honoring these Honda STEAM leaders, who are role models for the next generation and whose dreams led them to work in the automotive industry.
Despite women making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, only 27% of them work in STEM fields according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Pate is the quality division lead for Honda’s Alabama Auto Plant in Lincoln, Alabama, where she is responsible for all quality operations including vehicle quality and product engineering.
“I appreciate that STEAM education will be the focal point of Honda’s float,” she said. “I’m passionate about encouraging young women to pursue STEAM careers and increasing their presence in the auto industry, and this experience gives me the opportunity to do so on a national level.”
Additional details about Honda’s float and Honda’s support of STEAM education across the U.S. are at HondaNews.com.
Northern Tool + Equipment plans to open a store in Douglasville off Highway 5 just north of Interstate 20.
The Douglasville City Council in July approved a development plan for the store on Dogwood Hills Drive. The Douglasville location will be the company’s fifth store in metro Atlanta and seventh in Georgia.
Jeffrey Wakeman with North Carolina-based Stonegate Developers spoke to the City Council before their vote in July.
Wakeman said the Douglasville store is a new prototype store for Northern Tool, a Minnesota-based tools and equipment retailer.
Wakeman told the council he believed the last store Northern Tool built in metro Atlanta was about 10 years ago. Northern Tool also has stores in Buford, Marietta, Snellville and Stockbridge in the Atlanta area as well as locations in Macon and Savannah.
He said the store will be about 22,000 square feet, adding that “it’s pretty much an open box inside” with a repair area for lawn mowers and pressure washers.
Wakeman said the store will be roughly in front of Academy Sports and behind the 5 & 20 Package Store.
In early November, the City Council signed off on a contract to sell 0.182 acres of right-of-way along Dogwood Hills Drive for $10,000 for the development of Northern Tool.
The company is currently accepting bids for construction of the Douglasville store, according to information from LDILine.
Red Velvet Bistro has announced plans to open in the old Irish Bred Pub building downtown sometime in 2022.
Broad Street Station, a restaurant and concert venue, opened in the building in July of this year and closed three months later due to lagging sales and COVID-19.
The Irish Bred Pub had been in the spot from 2008 to 2019.
On its website, Red Velvet promises amazing foods, premium drinks and live music. Red Velvet also touts an event center that can accommodate up to 150 people.