DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — A North Georgia equine therapy program is hailed as a last resort for mental health patients, including veterans.
But owners tell Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln they fear they’ll be forced to turn patients away because they’re in the path of a 29-mile natural gas pipeline project.
The goal of the pipeline is to address the booming utility needs of North Georgia.
Harnessing Hope owner Hilary Holsteen said she understands the need for the pipeline, but not at the expense of her small business and the people with mental health needs she helps serve.
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Holsteen said the monetary amount Atlanta Gas Light initially offered is nowhere near enough to help with relocating her Dawsonville business to stay open during potentially months of construction.
“There’s going to be bulldozers, there’s going to be underground dynamite blasts at times,” Holsteen said. “It’s not acceptable. We would never compromise our integrity or the safety, mentally and physically of us and our clients and our horses.”
According to easement records provided by Holsteen, the path of the pipeline project is just feet from where Harnessing Hope conducts equine therapy sessions.
Holsteen’s therapeutic horses are rescues, with histories of neglect and abuse. Mental health patients, including war veterans with PTSD, work with the horses to heal from their own trauma.
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A former client said the program is a last resort for people when traditional therapy doesn’t work.
“It is an absolute no for us to continue our business during construction,” Holsteen said.
Holsteen and her husband started the business in 2004. They’ve paused building a covered arena to offer services year-round because they’ve been waiting for pipeline construction to start since 2018.
Atlanta Gas Light initially offered $2,100 compensation for the land in April 2020. In May 2022 they offered Holsteen $5,900.
She said these dollar amounts would do virtually nothing to sustain or relocate her business during construction.
“What they offered wouldn’t even allow us to put our fencing back up,” Holsteen said. “We’re not against growth, we’re not against these pipelines, but we do expect that they need to take care of small businesses such as ours as they go through and utilize our land.”
Atlanta Gas Light declined our request for an interview but told Channel 2 Action News by email the installation of the underground transmission pipeline would improve the need for natural gas in North Georgia.
The pipe will run through Dawson, Lumpkin, Hall, and Forsyth Counties. Forsyth County alone saw its population jump 43% since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“They’re going to have to relocate while this construction is going on at the very least,” said Holsteen’s attorney Harry Camp.
Camps said in good faith, Harnessing Hope got estimates to move their operation to another part of the property.
They’ve explored other locations in the region to temporarily move their operations during construction.
Camp said Atlanta Gas Light hasn’t agreed to help with those expenses, so they’re asking a judge to review the case at a special hearing in April.
“The [Georgia] constitution requires that they pay for all of the damages that they’re causing, and that can be consequential damages… or business damages in some cases, as we have here,” Camp said.
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