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Attorney threatens legal action to stop lake project

WILLIAM W. SAPP, is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. He has threatened legal action against the county.

The Grady County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to begin the process to issue $15 million in revenue bonds to finance the dam design and construction for the 960-acre fishing lake on Tired Creek, but not before hearing the objections of some local residents and an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
William W. Sapp, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, along with Beth Grant, Bill Maturro, Peter Wright, Tony Ward and Margaret Tyson voiced concerns about the environmental impact of the lake, the economics of the project, and the county commission’s timetable for the project.
On the other hand, a few citizens who had learned opponents to the lake would be making public comments also attended to voice support for the commissioners and the lake project.
Speaking up for the board and Tired Creek lake were Grady County Joint Development Authority Chairman Charles M. Stafford, JDA member Joe Porter, and Cairo businessowner Nat Higdon.
Sapp has made an open records request under Georgia law to review the county’s files on the Tired Creek project and county officials have made those records available for his inspection today (Wednesday).
According to Sapp, their objections to the project which were transmitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May of this year are based on an inaccurate hydrology report, the mitigation proposed is not adequate, and thirdly a large lake as proposed would become choked with weeds.
“The permit as we analyzed it has serious flaws. We are perfectly willing to meet with you and discuss these concerns and the issues voiced here. We are concerned about your pace and hoping you will table any decision on issuing bonds until you have time to meet with us and hear from others in the community,” Sapp said.
In a letter dated July 19th Sapp advised commissioners, “a challenge to the Corps’ permit may be filed” and he urged the county “to delay a final decision until these concerns can be resolved.”
Beth Grant, who resides in Thomas County but says she owns property in Grady County, questioned how the lake would be an “economic engine” for the county. According to Ms. Grant, the case document on the lake indicates the economic impact to county would be “minor.”
Ms. Grant also questioned the need for such a large lake with other lakes such as Seminole and Walter F. George so close by.
She went on to allege those who stand to profit from the lake are not Grady Countians. “It concerns me greatly that most of the data that has been gathered to support the lake, as well as most of the advice on it, have come from outside firms that stand to or already have profited most richly from its permitting and construction.”
Bill Maturro, a resident of Lee Road in southern Grady County, also took issue with the cost of the project and advised commissioners to distinguish between needs and wants.
“Do you really want to mortgage the county to people in New York and China?” Maturro asked.
Peter Wright, a vocal opponent of the lake, said the county is quickly turning into a “third world country with a few rich, a lot of poor and a shrinking middle class.”
Tony Ward said his concern was that few if any Grady Countians would benefit from employment in connection with the lake construction.
“The main concern is the rush. What did it take, 50 or 60 years to get where we are and now you’re acting as if the house is on fire. I haven’t seen an opportunity for public comment on the current plan. I think if we just take a pace where you look at what you are doing, have community involvement, and slow down some,” Margaret Tyson said to commissioners.
She added, “I question if there is going to be residential development out there or just a fishing lake.”
Speaking out in favor of the lake and the county’s plans to issue bonds to finance the project was Cairo businessman Nat Higdon, an owner of Ira Higdon Grocery Company.
Higdon said as an employer the lake would be an attraction for new employers as well as to young talent, who are hard to attract to Grady County due to a lack of amenities.
JDA Chairman Charles M. Stafford said he had been a resident here for over 30 years and had been involved in economic development here most of those years. “This lake will do more than anything else than has been done in 30 years to bring people and industry to Grady County. We are a seven member board, very diversified, and the board voted and we are 100 percent behind the project and what you are doing,” said Stafford, who is also chairman of United National Bank.
JDA member Joe Porter echoed the comments made by Higdon and Stafford.
After allowing for public comment the board continued with its agenda and unanimously voted to solicit the South Georgia Governmental Services Authority to issue $15 million in revenue bonds on the county’s behalf.

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