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POSTED: June 5, 2007 10:11 a.m.
Georgia is the nation’s sixth fastest growing state on a percentage basis and the fourth fastest growing on a numeric basis. The Peach State population is spiraling upward at an annual rate of nearly 15 percent per year. Close to 40 counties  —  mostly in north Georgia — exceed the 15 percent growth rate.
Georgia is approaching the national average on per capita income. Our public school teachers are the best paid in the region and among the highest paid in the country. Atlanta has become a magnet for economic expansion.
Not too many years ago, Georgia was best known for stagnant growth and grinding poverty. Now, when this child of the depression reads the Atlanta growth story, I feel like shouting for joy. Perhaps I should feel like sending an SOS signal. The growth goes on, but symptoms of trouble spring up all around us. Parts of the state may be approaching the too-much mark.
For nearly five decades, Georgia grew because we elected progressive leaders dedicated to luring prosperity into the state. Economic development was the No. 1 challenge for our political establishment. We became more tolerant, better educated and more diverse to make way for economic development. We built airports, highways and industrial parks, all in the name of economic expansion. But times have changed. Growth is still desirable, but we require something more. We need a generation of leaders less enthralled with go-go growth and more interested in go-slow thoughtfulness.
More than 1 million people have moved into metro Atlanta since 2000. The pro-growth lobby would be happy to see another million or so new residents jam into metro Atlanta in the next two years.
To keep the river of people running, however, the boundless-growth enthusiasts must find an additional source for water. The water hunt —  known innocuously in statehouse circles as interbasin piping — may become the No. 1 issue in next year’s General Assembly. Pro-growth lobbyists plan to support bills that would facilitate the transfer of water from the so-called Other Georgia to booming metro Atlanta and North Georgia.
Of course, the growth lobby faces a couple of significant issues in their quest to move water:
First, when water is taken away from one region to quench the thirst of another, the loser is deprived of economic potential. So the question arises: Why should the less-developed hinterlands give up their chance at prosperity so the greedy Atlanta developers can make another fast buck?
Second, the elephant in the room, which no one wants to acknowledge, is that Atlanta is already too big. The “growth lobby” —  the chambers of commerce, the Georgia Power Co. and other centers of wealth and expansion —  views any discussion of slowing growth as treason.
Never mind that Atlanta is already splitting at the seams. Traffic is constantly snarled, not just on the expressways but on surface streets and neighborhood byways. The air is so polluted that it is making people sick. The influx of new people has put an impossible strain on the schools, health care and public safety. Crime is rampant. Metro Atlanta’s jails are overflowing.
Just how are we going to accommodate more growth and still maintain a city that works and produces a quality of life worth living? Perhaps the money guys will wake up shortly and realize they could reap just as much profit by slowing growth and working smarter to make Atlanta livable again — and expanding growth to other areas. Prediction: Such enlightened thinking is not likely to occur.
The short-term financial future is just too inviting to worry about long-term consequences. So get ready for the interbasin piping legislation bill that may give our region another decade of unbridled growth. After that, who knows what may happen?

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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