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Recycling discussion dominates town hall

Mayor Jim Thornton held the second of four town hall meetings Tuesday night at Berta Weathersbee Elementary School and the most discussed topic of the night was recycling.

Even when a new subject came up, the conversation shifted back to the city’s recycling program in what turned into an hour-long discussion. The city launched its curbside recycling program in January 2016, and Thornton said it is currently projected to cost LaGrange around $160,000 this year.

Many in the audience were concerned about the program’s future and asked Thornton how they could help.

“Short of knocking on every door on town, we’ve really tried to promote this program,” Thornton said. “It’s a free program, free to the consumer. I honestly don’t think there’s much more the city staff can do to push this out. We’ve talked about it in all my town hall meetings for two years now. I think honestly we’re at a point where we need help. We need the citizens of LaGrange to help get this word out to their neighbors that are not taking advantage of the program.”

Thornton said the city never expected to make a profit off the program and knew that it would initially lose money.  When the city launched the program, it was projected to lose around $80,000 a year. Thornton said those projections included around 1,500 people signing for the program, but up until a few months ago only around 850 had registered. A campaign through the Sierra Club has helped get those numbers over 1,000.

Suggestions were made on how to better the program. Those included improved instructions on how the program works, a more thorough explanation on what can be recycled and a better explanation for red-tagged cans, which are flagged for violating the recycling regulations.

Thornton reminded those in attendance that no decision was made on the recycling program last month and that nothing had changed. However, he also said something likely needs to improve in the future for the program to remain as it is.

“I don’t think anyone is proposing to do away with recycling. I think the question is what’s the best way to facilitate it. Is it the curbside?” Thornton said. “Is it going back to … recycling centers around town? Is this something citizens should contribute to if they are interested in it?”

Other topics included whether LaGrange was actively promoting itself in an effort to get more motion pictures filmed in the area. In the past, part of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II” was filmed in LaGrange and a new Netflix series,  “The Haunting of Hill House” was filmed in LaGrange last year.

“I think [the state of Georgia] has now eclipsed Louisiana and become second only to California when it comes to movies filmed in a state, and that’s a testimony to Gov. [Nathan] Deal’s emphasis on the movie business industry as being an economic development driver. Most of that is centered around the Atlanta airport,” Thornton said. “Most of the movies want to film within 30 to 40 miles of the airport, and we are just a little bit outside that sweet spot, so it’s a little bit harder for us to get on the radar. I know the chamber of commerce has been actively working trying to make sure that our sites that are available and promoted.”

Others questioned whether any retail sites had been announced next to Great Wolf Lodge. Thornton said he had no updates from Selig, the developer. However, he did say he expects significant retail development near the lodge in time.   

“I don’t have specifics about what they are going to be doing, but I know they are clearing a lot of land and planning to build some commercial area out there,” Thornton said.  “So yes, I anticipate there will be a lot more commercial that takes place out at exit 13. The reason the mayor and council decided to recruit Great Wolf was primarily for that purpose. To bring 400,000 tourists to our area on an annual basis, who will come here, stay at the resort and hopefully venture out into shopping and restaurants. We know that will excite a potential retail and restaurant developer.”