(Originally published on Dec. 13, 2011)
Candles lit up the old entrance to the Pinewood South Estates mobile park on Epps Bridge Parkway Tuesday night where around 130 residents and supporters stood in protest of a possible water and sewer shutoff.
Oconee County filed a lawsuit in April against the park's property owner, Georgia General Kipling Land, for about $150,000 of bills and fees officials say haven't been paid. Georgia General disputes the charges and has countersued. The residents say they continue to pay their landlord monthly for water and sewer.
Officials with the Utility Department have said that service will be shut off to the park on Jan. 13 if no agreement is reached. The county proposed the landlord deposit monies into an escrow account or Registry of the Court pending resolution of the lawsuits, but so far the issue is unresolved.
The hour-long Chain of Lights demonstration came one day following a public meeting where county officials said they were hopeful for a solution with Georgia General to keep residents from having to go without water.
The Board of Commissioners has since called a meeting for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Courthouse "to adjourn into Executive Session for discussion on litigation matters," according to a notice of the meeting. "Action by the Board of Commissioners is expected to occur following the Executive Session," the notice stated.
But residents and supporters continued with the protest as planned.
Adam Lassila with Occupy Athens said he feels terrible for the residents caught in the middle of the dispute.
"We're out here because this is exactly what we are standing for -- average people who are being crushed by the system," he said. "These people have been paying their bills for a year and, for the fact that their landlord wouldn't pay the county, now they're the ones who are going to suffer from it by getting their stuff turned off. It's extremely unfair and it's a great parable for what's happening across the county where normal, hardworking people are being screwed by a system that just isn't working for most Americans anymore."
One of the organizers of the protest, Sonja Arnour, has no ties to the park or any other group other than having previously worked with some of the residents. She said she is "just a concerned citizen."
"I think that what the owner is doing is just so wrong. He kept those people's money and he didn't forward the money to the water department," she said. "In my eyes, it's just so wrong, so immoral that I needed to do something."
Though she is aware of the county's called meeting Wednesday, she remains skeptical about whether a resolution will be reached before damage is done.
"I'm praying," she said. "I'd like to be optimistic, but it's only four more weeks (until the scheduled shutoff), so I'm just extremely worried."
Shelly Blevins is one of the park's residents who has been outspoken since news broke of the potential shutoff of services.
"It can be a snowball effect," she said. "It's not just getting your water shut off but having to move, having to not only find another place but having to maybe put your child in another school where they'll have to make new friends A lot of people don't have the money here -- because it is a fairly low income area-- to make that transition."
Blevins is hopeful about the county's announcement that an agreement may be reached by the end of the week.
"I will choose to be optimistic," she said. "It would be wonderful if an agreement could come through and everyone would be able to enjoy their holidays -- for all parties involved."
If a resolution isn't reached soon, the residents say they'll continue to explore their legal options.
Of the protest, Blevins said it was inspiring.
"People are pulling together and standing up for good and things that concern all humans," she said "It's very heartwarming to see all the people come out and say that they care."