GROVETOWN, Ga. -- An estimated 150 people, including local and state dignitaries gathered Nov. 5 for ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the new Georgia State Patrol post in Columbia County.
The new GSP post, located off Chamberlin Road near Grovetown, home to Post No. 25's 17 troopers and 15 regional communications operators, officially opened about a month ago. For many years, the state patrol post had been located in McDuffie County, off Washington Road, near Thomson.
The state-of-the-art facility, which was built for nearly $2 million -- funds that were made available from a Special Local Option Sales Tax program in Columbia County -- became the troopers' new home two months earlier than planned.
"We thought it fitting to and complementary to have a state patrol post in Columbia County," said Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross. "We looked at this as a really good investment for the future of Columbia County."
Mr. Cross said the project started 14 months ago with a trip to Statesboro -- another new state patrol post.
"Our patrol post here is modeled after that one," Mr. Cross said, noting that the construction to build the new post in Columbia County came in nearly $60,000 under budget. "I hope this is an asset for law enforcement here for many years to come."
He was joined at the ceremony by fellow commissioners Ron Thigpen, Trey Allen, Charles Allen and Scott Dean. McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton along with Commissioner Paul McCorkle and Probate Judge Valerie Burley also attended.
"Sadly to say we didn't have the financial means to keep the patrol post in McDuffie County," Mr. Newton said, as he addressed the large crowd. "I'm just sorry we couldn't make it happen. We still look forward to a great relationship and partnership with the Georgia State Patrol and Columbia County."
Mr. Cross pointed out that Mr. Newton had been "very gracious" throughout the process.
The Columbia County official also praised Scott Johnson, a former official with the Georgia State Patrol, who now serves as deputy administrator for Columbia County.
"Scott worked diligently to get this done," Mr. Cross said.
Other elected officials attending the ceremony included Warren County Commission Chairman John Graham and Commissioners Richard Burley Jr. and Rita Johnson. Don Grantham, a commissioner from Augusta, also attended as did Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ashley Wright.
State Reps. Ben Harbin and Barbara Sims also were present, as was State Sen. Bill Jackson.
"We're fortunate to have Col. Hitchens leading the state patrol," Rep. Harbin said. "He's one of Georgia's great people."
Rep. Harbin said it is important that legislators continue to fund public safety.
Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Bill Hitchens said it was certainly a pleasure for him to be in Columbia County for the occasion.
"This is a great facility," Col. Hitchens said. "We appreciate what you and the citizens of Columbia County have done. We look forward to a long beneficial relationship."
Georgia State Patrol Lt. Donnie Smith, works out of the new post helping to oversee operations over Troop E with the assistance of Lt. Andy Carrier.
Troop E is headed by commander Capt. Bill Ashburn, who welcomed guests to the ceremony.
Lt. Smith praised Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle for listening to him during the pre-construction phase and during the midst of the construction.
"On the darkest days, Clay stood beside me," Lt. Smith said of his longtime friend. "The sheriff was our guiding light."
Lt. Smith also told those there that if they live in Columbia County they should be proud.
"You have a lot of great government officials serving you in this county," Lt. Smith said.
He added that the state patrol post has not exited McDuffie County.
"We've not left," Lt. Smith said. "We've just relocated."
The GSP post No. 25 serves Columbia, Richmond, McDuffie, Warren and Glascock counties.