Caterpillar Thrives as Road Nears Completion

By: William McFadden

The newly constructed Caterpillar plant located in Athens has experienced some minor problems in an otherwise smooth partnership between the company and city said officials from both parties.

A crack in the road was noticed shortly before the grand opening of the plant, causing concerns about the safety of those coming in and out of the plant.

According to Oconee County Economic Development Director Rusty Haygood, “there was an old burial pit that was under the surface of the road. Through the settling process the road began to crack.”

Emil Beshara, the Oconee County Public Works Director, stated they first noticed the crack “sometime in early October, only a few weeks before the plant was set to open.”

Once it was determined that the road posed a threat to drivers, officials decided that it was time to take action.

“The surface was removed and the burial pit, which contained some sort of organic matter, was cleaned out,” said Haygood. “Then new dirt was put in and the road was repaved.”

Caterpillar has delivered on its promise of job creation and city spending. According to Oconee County Observations, a citizen blog dedicated to Oconee County happenings, the corporation filed a compliance report on February 26 stating it had provided 364 full-time jobs in 2013 and had invested over $100 million.

The company had originally promised to spend $50 million in 2013 and agreed to employ 100 full-time workers a month; Caterpillar averaged 214 full-time workers hired per month last year, Oconee County Observations reported.

According to the blog, Caterpillar hired 60 contract service workers, the highest number of any group, 54 agency production workers, 44 welders and 31 production assemblers amongst other categories.

Caterpillar Project Manager Teresa Curtis is optimistic about the company’s future.

“2013 was a very productive year, we were able to provide jobs for over 350 people,” said Curtis. “We look to do more of the same in 2014. Our goal for the next year is to continue providing jobs and reach our magic number of 1,400 employed.”

While the company has held up its end of the agreement, officials for Oconee and Athens-Clarke County are still working to fix the road.

The two counties, Oconee and Athens-Clarke, have invested over $18 million in project expenses for Caterpillar including $6.7 million for road improvement and $10 million for the land, according to a report the counties released in January Oconee County Observations reported.

“The road is in good shape, and we expect the project to be completed within the next two weeks,” Beshara said. “The project took time, but we wanted to be thorough and do it properly.”

It has taken time for this road to be fully repaired and Beshara blames part of the delay on the recent weather in Athens. The road, located on highway 78, has been shut down during this process causing workers to use the secondary entrance on Atlanta highway.

“Those couple of weeks in February caused us to briefly fall behind schedule,” Beshara said. “With the snow and ice we weren’t able to work on the roads until they were clear.”

According to Beshara they had hoped to finish the road building project before March, but they had to be sure that the road was set properly, and the freezing temperatures interfered with that process.

Once the roads are fully repaired, no immediate problems remain evident, and the company and city will be able to continue their goal of providing stable jobs for the Athens’ community.

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