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The Gateway...

Funding was announced by the Georgia DOT last week for three local projects - $500,000 for a Gateway Project in Blakely, $300,000 for Kolomoki State Park improvements and $80,128 for renovation of the Arlington Depot.

The Gateway Project, included in the 50-year Early County 2055 project, is a key and critical component to the future of the master plan.

The $500,000 in federal Transportation Enhancement monies will be used for the study and planning phase of the project.

The application stated "the proposed Gateway Project, coupled with Early County 2055's other renovation projects, will entice travelers to 'come into' the city of Blakely... Without the Gateway Project, these travelers will more than likely bypass Blakely, as there will be nothing to 'draw them in'."

The Gateway Project will create a pleasing entrance into the City of Blakely through the purchase and improvement of property along the US 27 and Magnolia Street intersection.

The application noted wetlands on the property have been degraded by commercial activity and will be enhanced, restored and possibly modified to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Upland buffers surrounding the wetland will provide walking trails and bicycle paths. Wetland observation bridges will provide educational opportunities for all.

The benefits of the Gateway Project stated in the application include: 1) designating property around US 27 as open, civic space to prevent low density sprawl and encourage redevelopment of the downtown area; 2) increasing revenue by drawing visitors off of US 27; 3) protecting rural heritage and natural habitat; 4) providing recreational opportunities for pedestrians and bicycles; 5) providing educational opportunities for local residents and visitors regarding wetlands and natural environment.

The scope of the project includes purchasing and improving 21 acres of land as well as landscape improvements along US 27.

Following acquisition, detailed plans will be developed for improvements to the property as well as the landscape improvements to the US 27 bypass.

Landscape improvements would also screen the City of Blakely Public Works property from the bypass.

Observation bridges are planned over the wetland area. Along these bridges, enlarged decks and a covered pavilion area will be constructed to provide educational opportunities. Also, planned within the buffer areas are trails, gardens and pavilions.

The overall success of the wetland enhancement will depend somewhat on the ability of the City of Blakely to influence the control and management of the stormwater runoff generated within the drainage basin of the property.

A parking area adjacent to Magnolia Street will be constructed including a large picnic pavilion.

A new City of Blakely sign will be constructed on the property adjacent to Highway 27.

The application noted "in May 2006, through a generous gift from the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation, PlaceMakers, LLC, a Miami-based town planning and development advisory firm, expanded the Early County Comprehensive Plan creating a 50-year Master Plan for the county.

"The 50-year revitalization project, called Early County 2055, will create a healthy business climate, enhance the quality of life, and sustain growth for all of Early County.

It further noted, "to date, the Foundation has given over $5 million to fund the Early County 2055 project, and will continue to give, if other sources of funding can be secured to complement their dollars."

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