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The air out here: Local air quality among nation's best

Breathe in the fresh air. That's what a national magazine said McDuffie County residents should do, even though neighbors to the east don't have it so good.

The Progressive Farmer magazine's website - - recently ranked the Best Places to Live in Rural America for 2007. One of the associated top 10 lists ranked McDuffie County with the second best air quality in the country.

For Thomson City Administrator Don Powers - who spent the last few years recruiting industry into the county as Forward McDuffie Director - the ranking didn't come as a surprise.

"Anytime Thomson and McDuffie County can get on a 'Best Of' list, it's generally good news," he said. "I clicked in a few times on the Progressive Farmer website to see how they gathered their data, and the methodology described is pretty general. That said, it's still not too surprising of a statistic because we don't have big 'smokestack' types of industries."

McDuffie County ranked just behind Branch County, Mich., and just ahead of another Georgia county, Effingham. Overall, McDuffie was one of five Georgia counties in the top 10. Lincoln County tied for fourth. Oconee and Bryan Counties tied for seventh.

Progressive Farmer used the Environmental Protection Agency's air quality ratings to form the list. The website listed the air pollution index in McDuffie County as a 67, one point behind the top-ranked county.

According to the website, 100 is the national average pollution level, and 50 would be half the national average. McDuffie County's ranking puts its air quality at 33 points below the national average pollution level.

For McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton, the ranking means the county made a conscious decision not to recruit "big polluters." He said it also means there are a lot of rural counties to the west, the direction from which the wind blows.

"That's a draw for McDuffie County," Chairman Newton said. "All the development is to the east of us, and we have the advantage of good clean air coming our direction."

Despite the quality of air in McDuffie, the county is included in the Augusta Metropolitan Statistical Area. And if pending federal restrictions are placed on the area because of Augusta's pollution, it could mean a crackdown on local transportation projects.

The problem is fine particulate matter, a pollutant emitted from car exhaust, coal-fired power plants and just about anything else that burns.

Calculations for the Augusta area began in 2005 and have exceeded the standard through 2006, according to Augusta Planning Commission statistics.

McDuffie County leaders have attended meetings on how to address the problem. And while they are glad to receive the website's high ranking, they agree that it is important to help retain what attracted the recognition in the first place.

"The challenge will be to stay mindful of that attractive, clean, rural image as we grow, ensuring that 10 years down the road we've made growth decisions that are smart," Mr. Powers said.

Morris News Service reports were used in this article.

Web posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007

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