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Flood waters can't wash away Lee Public Works

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

LEESBURG -- Since the first of December, Lee County has gotten 27 inches of rain in most places, more in some.

For a county with more than 200 miles of dirt roads ... well, it's common knowledge that heavy rains and unpaved driving paths are not a good mix.

But thanks to the 29-person staff that makes up Lee County's Public Works Department, the inconvenience of washed-out and unnavigable roads has been kept to a minimum.

"I'll tell you why we haven't had bigger problems; Lee County has the best Public Works personnel in the state of Georgia," Lee Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said. "I've never seen a more dedicated group of people. They continuously do a great job of keeping Lee County's roads in top-notch condition, and given the recent weather that's been no easy task."

The thankless nature of providing necessary services for the public leaves employees in divisions like Public Works to do their jobs in relative obscurity. About the only time they're spotlighted is when something bad happens.

Yet, Lee County's mostly veteran crew toils away, content to do its job and do it well.

"The El Nino weather pattern has created a level of rainfall that we're not accustomed to," County Administrator Alan Ours said. "But throughout this period, the dedication of our Public Works employees and their commitment to serving the citizens of the county has been reaffirming.

"On the occasions that I'm out in the county observing the work taking place, I not only see diligent work, but I see happy people. These employees take pride in what they do, and they enjoy helping others."

The Public Works staff had an opportunity to develop a chink in its united armor when longtime and popular former director William Clark was forced to step down from that position late last year. But the department has not missed a beat.

"When people have been trained well, they know what to do," said General Supervisor Anthony King, who has worked with Lee County Public Works six years after a 25 1/2-year career in Albany. "When there's work to be done, the folks here get to it."

Mike Sistrunk, who currently serves as interim director of the Public Works Department, said the county employees don't mind working in a community that appreciates what they do.

"In this line of work, you just don't see the kind of support we're given," Sistrunk, who worked 17 years in Albany before going to work with Lee Public Works seven years ago, said. "We get regular pats on the back from the commissioners and from Mr. Ours. (Ours) will even call on occasion to make sure the guys are OK, to make sure they have all they need and to make sure they're not overworked."

Given the torrential rains that have soaked the county over the last three months, Ours is not just making courtesy calls. Public Works crews have had to put in more than 637 hours of overtime to shore up washed-out roads and to keep rising waters at bay.

"There have been days when some of our crews have worked until 3 in the morning," King said.

Adds Sistrunk: "It's nothing to see our folks working on until 10 or 11 at night. But when you've got a county like this where people come together in times of emergency, well, we want to do everything we can for them."

When flood waters threatened low-lying homes in the county during recent heavy rains, a call for volunteers to fill sandbags received immediate response.

"We had folks from the fire department and the sheriff's department along with 12 to 14 other cars of people there within 15 minutes," Sistrunk said. "They'd filled 100 sandbags within an hour.

"And we had private citizens -- W.F. Griffin, Dallas Powell, Steve Stocks and Harold Hobbs -- who not only donated equipment, they allowed us to pump water onto their land to get it away from flooded areas. We've even had people who've spent their own money to feed us all; that's the kind of citizens we work for. And that's why we have a passion for what we do."

In addition to road work, Public Works crews take care of right-of-way maintenance, street signs, animal control issues, the county landfill, lawn care around government facilities and maintenance of all county vehicles.

"These dedicated employees have worked diligently just to maintain an adequate road system in the county," Duffy said. "They have the ability to do their jobs well, and they have the vision to meet the needs of the citizens of Lee County.

"We're proud of them, and we're fortunate to have them."