County’s vote paves way for 150 jobs, $52.8M deal

The Covington News - - NEWS - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­news.com

The Newton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers ( BOC) elected not to ex­er­cise its first right of re­fusal on two tracts of land on the cor­ner of High­way 142 and Al­covy Road Mon­day.

That 4-1 vote — with District 4 Com­mis­sioner J.C. Hen­der­son the vot­ing against — was made to pave the way for a new in­dus­try to pur­chase three parcels of land at that lo­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the for­mer Ny­loBoard build­ing. The Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil also ex­er­cised their right of first re­fusal dur­ing its meet­ing Mon­day. The other op­tion for the BOC was to pur­chase the 20 acres of land back at $5,000 an acre.

The in­dus­try — only iden­ti­fied by its co­de­name, Project Box — will in­vest $52,875,000 into Newton County and bring 150 new jobs, ac­cord­ing to Serra Hall, Se­nior Project Man­ager with the Cov­ing­ton-Newton County Cham­ber of Com­merce. The name of the com­pany won’t be an­nounced un­til af­ter the sale is made of­fi­cial.

The project was brought to the Newton County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment de­part­ment by the state. Project Box orig­i­nally was look­ing at an­other lo­ca­tion in the city of Cov­ing­ton when the Ny­loBoard prop­erty be­came avail­able.

The own­ers of Project Box were sched­uled to close on the land pur­chase Fri­day, but it was dis­cov­ered that Newton County and the City of Cov­ing­ton had a right of first re­fusal covenant that dated back to the 1970s. The own­ers were granted a week ex­ten­sion with clos­ing sched­uled for Nov. 11. The covenants were put in place, Hall said, so the city and county could make sure com­pa­nies com­ing into the in­dus­trial park were what they wanted.

“We’re all ex­cited the state has brought this project to Newton County and the city of Cov­ing­ton,” Newton County Chair Keith El­lis said.

The new busi­ness will also be el­i­gi­ble for the state’s Quick Start pro­gram based out of the Ge­or­gia BioS­cience Train­ing Cen­ter at Stan­ton Springs, ac­cord­ing to Hall.

The BOC’s work ses­sion Mon­day was called Satur­day af­ter­noon af­ter the need for the meet­ing was made known.

Hen­der­son called the meet­ing into ques­tion, by say­ing he —the com­mis­sioner whose district the project is in — was not made aware of what was hap­pen­ing. Hen­der­son, for the third time in re­cent months, re­quested a let­ter to be writ­ten to the Ge­or­gia at­tor­ney gen­eral seek­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into il­le­gal meet­ings be­ing con­ducted. In or­der for a pub­lic meet­ing to be in ac­cor­dance with the state’s sun­shine laws: the meet­ing must be pub­li­cized 24 hours in ad­vance, a quo­rum must be present and it must be made in the open un­less it is to dis­cuss per­son­nel, land ac­qui­si­tion or lit­i­ga­tion.

Other Newton County com­mis­sion­ers de­nied Hen­der­son’s claim and said the meet­ing was above board.

“I want to state for record — an email was sent out to the en­tire board,” District 2 Com­mis­sioner Lanier Sims said. “Nor­mally an email is sent to the county clerk, which is then de­liv­ered to the district 4 com­mis­sioner.”

Hen­der­son said he first heard of the meet­ing when he was called Sun­day evening.

“All of us were sent emails at the same time, and we re­ceived a com­mu­ni­ca­tion from at­tor­ney Paul Frickey to­day,” District 3 Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schulz said. “I don’t think any of us had prior knowl­edge of what is go­ing on.”

District 5 Com­mis­sioner Le­vie Mad­dox said he had a brief con­ver­sa­tion via phone with Sims on Fri­day or Satur­day, and brought the dis­cus­sion back to the in­dus­try.

“The con­ver­sa­tion and meet­ing tonight is about jobs,” Mad­dox said. “I can’t imag­ine the BOC or the city would pur­chase this again.”

Bryan Fazio | The Cov­ing­ton News

A com­pany, code-named Project Box, is seek­ing to pur­chase three pieces of prop­erty on Har­land Road, in­clud­ing the for­mer Ny­loBoard build­ing, pictued here, and bring 150 new jobs to the area. The Newton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers and Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil voted to waive their right of first re­fusal on the prop­er­ties this week.

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