Rusty Paul comes from a family of tree farmers, so the Mayor of Sandy Springs is approaching a fight against a Georgia House bill from an interesting perspective.
After passing the House with flying colors, HB 876 is headed for the Senate. If it passes, it would prohibit local governments — cities and counties — from banning the use of wood products as construction material. The bill is sponsored by six Republican House members representing rural parts of Georgia.
Supports say the bill would help Georgia’s sawmill industry; oppoents like Paul say this is a local issue, and also argue wood isn’t as safe a building material as steel.
Locally, the bill would impact and override a city ordinance that Sandy Springs set in 2016 requiring buildings over three stories tall or over 100,000 square feet in size to be constructed with steel and masonry instead of wood framing.
Dunwoody and Tucker have similar city ordinances in place, and this bill would also undo those codes. On Friday, Sandy Springs hosted a press conference where Paul, city fire chief Keith Sanders and state Senator John Albers, R-Roswell, opposed the bill and said they would fight it.
“This legislation is very concerning for the safety of our fellow Georgians and first responders,” said Albers, the Chief Deputy Whip. “State government should not be in the business of dictating terms that prevent local communities from making their communities a better place to live.”
The press conference was organized by “Build With Strength,” a coalition of the national ready mixed concrete association.
The Sandy Springs fire chief has been in the business of firefighting since 1979, and said his main concern is safety.
“The fact remains that wood-frame structures are more combustible and faster to collapse than traditional masonry construction,” Sanders said. “Wood-frame construction for multi-storied buildings presents increased risk for the men and women who must fight those fires.”
“This measure would level the playing field for our state's tree farmers, as well as boost business for Georgia's 97 sawmills, most of which are located in rural parts of the state,” Collins, R-Villa Rica, wrote.
The lead sponsor for the bill is Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park. A request for comment from Corbett was not immediately returned, but he told Reporter Newspapers that the bill doesn't force "anyone to use wood" but "prevents them from prohibiting it as an option."
In the crowd at the press conference was Lon Sibert, a resident of Sandy Springs and the president of Renewable Resource Associates, Inc., a lumber grading company.
“I know wood and wood products,” said Sibert, who also said he is a former firefighter. “I’m very much concerned about safety… But I think (the mayor) is seriously misunderstanding the attributes of wood and the attributes of wood construction.”
The bill will next be heard by a Senate committee.