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Leon County comes out swinging

The Leon County, Florida Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to join a lawsuit that challenges Grady County’s right to build a recreational lake on Tired Creek.
The commissioners voted 6-1 to join in the suit filed by Georgia River Network and American Rivers against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to contest the issuance last year of a federal 404 permit giving Grady County the authority to construct the 960-acre lake.
Only Leon County Commission Vice Chairman Akin Akinyemi voted against the motion made by Commissioner Bryan Desloge to join in the lawsuit.
Grady County earlier this year intervened and is seeking to be included as a party in the suit along with the Corps. The county is being represented by Athens attorney Edward Tolley with assistance from Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley.
The Leon County commission vice chairman argued that the board should contact Grady County officials to alert them of their action and allow Grady County officials to make a presentation to the Leon County commission prior to voting to join in the lawsuit.
Commissioner Akinyemi offered a substitute motion in an attempt to table the matter, but his motion died for lack of a second.
After becoming aware the matter would be discussed at the Tuesday commission meeting in Tallahassee, County Attorney Cauley sent correspondence to members of the Leon County Board of Commissioners seeking an opportunity to discuss the lake project with the board prior to their voting on whether or not to join in the legal action.
“It would be common courtesy to let Grady County know what we are doing,” Akinyemi said and suggested it would be “worthwhile” to push the agenda item back to a later meeting.
“Why not write to them and invite them to a meeting,” he said while also saying that if after that meeting opinions had not changed he could support joining in the legal fight.
Commissioner Desloge told his fellow board members, “I’m less concerned about Grady County and more concerned about Leon County.”
Herbert W.A. Thiele, the Leon County commission’s attorney, told board members, in his opinion, “the permit is not in the best interest of those down stream.” He said that it is “our water body” that will be affected both in water quality and quantity as result of the construction of the dam on Tired Creek.
Thiele said that his office had been contacted by the plaintiffs in the suit against the Corps and had requested the Leon County board of commissioners join in the legal challenge.
“It will help their case to have a large downstream party in the case. That is the role we will play,” the Leon County attorney told commissioners in Tallahassee Tuesday.
Commissioner Desloge said the county attorney should discuss with the board before seeking outside legal counsel to work on the law suit and Commissioner Akinyemi renewed his objections to joining in the suit because he had been told that joining in the suit would have zero dollar impact on Leon County.
“Now we are talking about spending money. It scares me even worse,” the Leon County commission vice chairman said.
Thiele said it would be “tough” to estimate Leon County’s investment from beginning to end, but said he did not think it would be more than $30,000.
“We expect the plaintiffs and their attorneys to do the heavy lifting,” the Leon County attorney said.
Leon County Commissioner Jane Sauls asked Thiele if Cauley’s request for a meeting changed “the direction we need to go” and the Leon County attorney said no.
“We’ve been fighting this for a long time. It will have tremendous impact on Lake Talquin and Lake Lafayette and I hope we have unanimous support to fight it,” Commissioner Sauls said.
Thiele alleged that Grady County nor the Corps had ever responded to concerns raised by Leon County officials or Tall Timbers Research Station.
In a memo to the commissioners, Thiele wrote, “The dam, if built, will reduce water flow into the Ochlocknee [sic] River.  That will exacerbate the water quality problems already being experienced by the river as well as Lake Talquin.  As a downstream landowner, Leon County can better assert this argument.”
Attorney Cauley told The Messenger late Tuesday he remains confident in the validity of the Corps’ actions and the county’s permit to construct the lake. He said that attorneys for Grady County Wm. Thomas Craig and Edward Tolley had been briefed about the actions of the Leon County board.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the 404 permit for the construction of the 960-acre fishing lake on May 28, 2010.
Then, on Nov. 5, 2010, a lawsuit was filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Georgia River Network and American Rivers alleging the Corps used flawed studies that overestimate the number of people who would use the proposed fishing lake. The environmental groups also claim the project would destroy over nine miles of streams and up to 518 acres of wetlands.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the wetlands impacted by the Tired Creek project at just over 129 acres.
In November, the board of commissioners closed on a $15 million bond issue to fund the construction of the lake and to date has encumbered approximately $4.5 million of that total.
Cauley acknowledges that work on the lake project is proceding in accordance with the federal permit.
Editor’s Note: Leon County commission meetings are streamed live over the Internet. The Messenger covered the meeting by viewing the webcast live Tuesday afternoon. Readers may be interested that the commission meetings are archived at the Leon County website and can be viewed both live and in taped format.

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