Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.
— Bob Marley
It would have been easy enough for the Dougherty County Commission to ignore Shirley and Eddie Nelson.
The Nelsons were, after all, just a lovely older couple with a request that, if passed, would have stood in the way of progress. But the Nelsons — even with Shirley weakened from congenitive heart failure that leaves her short of breath and even with the intimidating weight of the entire elected county government staring them down — would not be ignored.
Officials at Molly Willis Pecan Co. wanted to rezone property adjacent to the Nelsons’ so that the company could plant a new pecan orchard. The city-county Planning Commission, relying on guidance from the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, recommended approving the company’s request with certain conditions.
Because the spraying of chemicals to control pests and diseases is a key element of pecan production, UGA professor Lenny Wells suggested a 150-foot buffer along the northern boundary of the 120.89-acre site where the pecan orchard would go. He said a 75-foot buffer to the south, which would impact the property owned by the Nelsons, would provide sufficient distance from the chemicals.
When Shirley Nelson asked for a more significant buffer — 150 feet, actually, to match the suggested distance to the north — because she feared spraying would impact her already poor health, Commissioner Gloria Gaines said she’d like to see evidence that Nelson’s health would be compromised.
Gaines and Bobby Donley, director of engineering for Lanier Engineering, who spoke on behalf of Molly Willis Pecans, suggested any chemicals used to spray the trees in the proposed orchard would have to be Environmental Protection Division-approved and thus present little danger to Shirley Nelson.
“Dougherty County has thousands of acres of pecans, and people in the county live among the trees,” Gaines said. “I can’t imagine growers would be allowed to spray chemicals that would be harmful to anyone’s health.”
But the quiet-spoken, 60-year-old grandmother of two, who, incidentally, was a nurse for 35 years, held her ground.
“What, do you want me to get sick and bring a lawyer in here with me?” she said. “Even with the buffer you’re suggesting, the chemicals will still be in the air. All we’re asking is that you add another 75 feet to the buffer at our property.”
When Gaines hinted that she’d like to table the matter to obtain more information, Donley suggested — on behalf of the pecan company — that the additional 75 feet of buffer would be preferable to delaying the rezoning request. Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard sought and received an OK from the Nelsons, and from neighbors Ernest and Carol Worthy, to approve the request under the conditions that the buffer be increased to 150 feet and that both families be notified of planned spraying and receive a list of chemicals used.
Shirley Nelson did not return a call seeking comment Monday before The Herald’s deadline, but she left a message early Tuesday apologizing, saying she’d become so weak from the meeting that she had gone to bed before checking phone messages.
Contacted Tuesday, she said she doesn’t think the solution reached with the commission will solve her problems completely.
“The (increased) buffer is helpful,” she said, “but that mist (from pecan spraying) is still going to hang in the air. (The 150-foot distance) is not going to stop it. And it’s going to affect the quality of my health.”
Nelson also said her husband and the Worthys had attempted to purchase an acre of land from Molly Willis Pecans as a hedge against future development when the company started clearing the tract that will become a pecan orchard. Each was denied.
So Monday’s victory was no cause for celebration for Eddie and Shirley Nelson. They’re still worried that her chronic illness will be impacted by the chemicals that will be used in the pecan orchard that will soon be planted adjacent to the home they’ve owned and lived in for the past 35 years. But it was a victory.
Governments, despite what we may think, are made up of people just like us. If given the opportunity, they will usually do the right thing. All they need is an excuse. Shirley Nelson gave the Dougherty County Commission such an excuse and they did the right thing.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.