Forsyth County Man Named District Engineer for Northeast Georgia

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden proudly announces the appointment of Brent Cook as District Engineer for the 21 counties in Northeast Georgia that make up DOT District One.

Brent began his career with the Georgia Department of Transportation in the training program in 1992. He then served as Urban Systems Planning Engineer in the Office of Planning at the DOT Headquarters in Atlanta until 1998. Then Cook moved to the Gainesville District Office as Planning and Programming Engineer. He was responsible for systems inventory, environmental services, public transportation, as well as, planning and programming construction projects throughout the district. He became District Traffic Engineer in 2004 and was responsible for the placement, installation and maintenance on all traffic signals and other traffic control devices. 2012 brought Cook back to Preconstruction to supervise that Department as District Preconstruction Engineer. His office managed survey, development, design of projects and rights of way acquisition. Cook was named Assistant District Engineer in 2013 while remaining District Preconstruction Engineer.

Cook assumes the duties of District Engineer from Bayne Smith as of September 16, 2014. Smith now serves as Georgia DOT’s Director of Field Services. Smith supervises operations in each of Georgia DOT’s District or Regional Offices.

Cook was awarded the Commissioner’s Award of Merit in 2000 for his outstanding efforts to increase public involvement and input into projects in the early stages of development.

Cook studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology and earned a Bachelors of Civil Engineering Degree in 1991.  He continued his studies and began cooperative training with Georgia Department of Transportation. Brent earned a Master’s of Science Degree from Georgia Tech in Civil Engineering in 1994.  He earned the certification of Professional Engineer in the State of Georgia in 1997.

He is married to the former Sloan Stancil from Cleveland, Georgia. They are the proud parents of one daughter, Ensley and live in Cumming. Cook is a native of Fannin County’s McCaysville, Georgia.  His parents Marilyn and Scott MacNeill still reside in McCaysville.

EMERGING SNAKE DISEASE CONFIRMED IN WILD GEORGIA SNAKE

A disease that some scientists have compared to the illness killing bats by the millions has been documented in a wild snake in Georgia.

An emaciated mud snake from Bulloch County tested positive last month for Snake Fungal Disease, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. The mud snake is the first free-ranging snake from Georgia that the Athens-based cooperative has confirmed with Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, the fungus associated with the disease.

Snake Fungal Disease is a severe dermatitis that causes scabs, crusty scales, nodules, abnormal molting and other changes to a snake’s skin. First reported in a captive black rat snake from Sparta, Ga., since 2006 the disease has turned up in growing numbers of wild snakes in the eastern and midwestern U.S. At least eight species, varying from milk snakes to eastern racers, have been infected.

The severity of infection varies and the overall impact on populations is not clear. Yet, among Illinois’ last population of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, all of the snakes that showed signs of infection died, according to a University of Illinois professor studying Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. In New Hampshire, the disease was implicated in a 50-percent decline in an imperiled population of timber rattlesnakes.

The increasing reports and potential threat have prompted comparisons to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 5.7 million hibernating bats and spread from the Northeast to as far west as Missouri. White-nose was confirmed in Georgia in 2013. The fungus related to white-nose is similar in some aspects to Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola, including that it occurs naturally in soil.

Senior wildlife biologist John Jensen, a herpetologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, suggested that Snake Fungal Disease is, for now, a deeper mystery than white-nose. “There’s a lot more we don’t know about it,” said Jensen, who works for DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
The challenge in learning more is that snakes are more difficult to monitor than many other animals.

Wildlife biologist Dr. Jessica McGuire of the Nongame Conservation Section said that when studying such diseases, “You opportunistically get what data you can, and focus from there.”

Questions include how Snake Fungal Disease is transmitted, what factors spur infections and how can the disease be treated. The fungus is not transmitted to humans, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. However, people could possibly carry it on clothes or equipment.

“This case definitely highlights the importance of disinfecting field gear,” McGuire said of the mud snake.

A volunteer with The Orianne Society, a Georgia-based nonprofit focused on conserving imperiled snakes, found the emaciated snake on the edge of a blackwater swamp near Statesboro.

Because mud snakes are cryptic and solitary, the incident could point to the ease at which the disease is spread, Jensen said. “I guess the take-home message is that all of our snakes may be susceptible to this.”

While noting that hundreds of healthy snakes have been found in Georgia and the eastern U.S. this year, Dirk Stevenson of The Orianne Society called the emerging disease issue troubling. “Scientists with The Orianne Society will closely examine all snakes they encounter – including the federally protected eastern indigo snake – at study sites in Georgia and other states for symptoms of the fungus,” said Stevenson, director of the organization’s Fire Forest Initiative.
How You Can Help
Georgia DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve native snakes and Georgia’s other rare and endangered animals and native plants. Yet the agency receives no state general funds, depending instead on fundraisers, grants and donations.

Help by purchasing the new nongame wildlife license plate – a bald eagle in flight! – or renew your older eagle or ruby-throated hummingbird plates. Thanks to a law change this year, you can upgrade to a DNR wildlife plates for only $25 more than a standard tag, and more of those fees will be dedicated to conserving Georgia wildlife.

Supporters can also contribute directly to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. These programs support conservation of wildlife not legally fished for, hunted or collected. Details: www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support

SEPT. 21 ETOWAH RIVER PADDLE TRIP WILL RAISE FUNDS TO BUILD 163-MILE BOATING TRAIL

On Sept. 21, dozens of paddlers from across North Georgia and beyond will launch on the Etowah River in Dawson County to celebrate the river and raise funds to create a 163-mile-long boating trail stretching from near Dahlonega to Rome.

The Etowah River Water Trail Rodeo will feature a 9-mile paddle on the Etowah through the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area followed by a dinner provided by Big D’s Barbecue in Dawsonville and Pepsi, with live music from Little Mountain Folk and a kayak giveaway from The Outside World.

Cost of the event is $50 per person (or $90 per couple) and includes complimentary canoe or kayak rentals courtesy of Appalachian Outfitters and Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI), dinner, shuttle service and a chance to win a new kayak. Proceeds from the benefit will be used to assist local communities in promoting and building the Etowah River Water Trail.
The event begins at 1 p.m. and continues until 8 p.m. at Dawson County’s Rock Creek Park. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit www.coosa.org/events/etowah-river-water-trail-rodeo

“Our vision is to have river access points along the entire length of the river so it’s easy for a local family or visitors to take a trip down the Etowah,” said Joe Cook of CRBI, a non-profit organization based in Rome that is leading a group of stakeholders in facilitating creation of the trail. “The Etowah is home to the best family paddling in North Georgia, and we want to make it more accessible.”

The stakeholders group, consisting of representatives from local governments, convention and visitors bureaus, private businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals has worked for the past two years to create the water trail.

In the past year, two new public boat launches have been installed on the river in Cherokee and Bartow counties, and within the year, additional launches will be in place in Forsyth and Bartow counties.

Sponsors of the Etowah River Water Trail Rodeo include Appalachian Outfitters, The Outside World, Big D’s Barbecue, Pepsi and CRBI.

CRBI is a 501c3 non profit organization and member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance. Its mission is to inform and empower citizens to protect, preserve and restore North America’s most biologically diverse river basin.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT JOE COOK AT 706-409-0128 or email at JCOOK@COOSA.ORG






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