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Leon County officials shun local leaders

As The Cairo Messenger went to press Tuesday the Leon County, Florida Board of Commissioners had not filed court documents to intervene in a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Grady County Board of Commissioners, but they continued to ignore requests from local officials to discuss the water quality and quantity concerns of the Florida elected officials.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley began last week attempts to schedule a meeting between Grady County officials and consultants with members of the Leon County Board of Commissioners and their staff, but all correspondence and requests for return phone calls have gone unanswered.
Even Tired Creek consultant and project manager Wm. Thomas Craig left phone message for Leon County officials and none were returned.
Cauley wrote to the Leon County commission, “It appears there may be material confusion and misunderstanding of many facts related to our lake project. It was mentioned during your discussions that concerns raised by Leon County in 2006 were never addressed and were shared by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GaEPD).  In addition to the necessary federal agencies, many Florida and Georgia agencies participated in the final review of our application and consented to the issuance of our permit. Specifically, the EPA had ultimate review and veto authority over the issuance of our permit and allowed the permit to be issued only after the GaEPD issued the necessary clean water certificate endorsing it.”
The Grady County attorney continued, “Further, you may not be aware that Grady County submitted material supplemental information to supplement its application for the permit after the public hearing attended by your representatives in 2006. Much of this information, and the corresponding permit restrictions, specifically address the water quality and quantity issues discussed by your board this past Tuesday to insure our project creates no downstream threat to your county’s water resources. Our county assumed that these modifications not only satisfied the concerned Florida state agencies, EPA and GaEPD, but also Leon County as we received no further correspondence or contact from your representatives after they were submitted. In reliance on this process and the corresponding permit issued nine months ago, Grady County has since issued $15,000,000 in bonds and committed almost $5,000,000 in resources towards the construction of this lake.”
In a separate letter to Leon County Attorney Herbert W.A. Thiele, Cauley noted, “The correspondence from Leon County and Tall Timbers attached to your report in this agenda item was over five years old. Much information has been provided by Grady County to supplement its permit application since your county last commented on the project in 2006. Each of the concerns raised by Leon County in 2006 were specifically addressed in later case documents and permit conditions.”
Cauley also wrote, “I just want to express that if representatives from Leon County will allow Grady County the opportunity to present our data, through the qualified experts that can explain it, we believe your county will be assured its downstream resources are more than adequately protected.”
The Grady County attorney told Thiele he was prepared to facilitate a meeting at Grady County’s expense so long as it could be done prior to Leon County joining in the suit filed by the Georgia River Network and American Rivers against the Corps of Engineers and Grady County.
On Tuesday, Cauley told The Messenger, “We have made diligent efforts, both phone calls and written correspondence, to communicate with Leon County officials that we are more than willing to meet and provide appropriate experts to respond to their concerns if they would just allow us to meet prior to seeking action in court. At this time, there has been no response to our attempts to communicate.”
The Grady County attorney also said that he learned of the Tired Creek project being included on last week’s Leon County Commission agenda by accident.
“I received notice we were on the agenda from a non-related source. Otherwise, Grady County officials would have had no notice and the last direct communication from Leon County with regards to this project was in November, 2006,” Cauley said.
While discouraged, Cauley said he was “hopeful Leon County officials will recognize the value of open communications on such an important issue and will respond and allow us to meet soon.”
When contacted last week by The Messenger for comment on Leon County’s action, Leon County District IV Commissioner Bryan Desloge via email stated, “Because of our concern for the potential of adverse affects to our waters, our Growth Management staff has continually monitored this project and has a significant understanding of the project.”
Commissioner Desloge also stated, “Should any information be discovered that resolves all of our concerns for downstream impacts, then it’s my expectation that the County Attorney will bring this issue back to the Commission for further direction.”
Desloge considers intervention in the law suit as Leon County’s “due diligence” but Grady County Attorney Cauley stated in his letter to the Leon County attorney, “Commissioner Desloge commented in his email that it was Leon County’s intent to use the litigation to do ‘due diligence’ on this lake project through the discovery process. This suit will not provide a forum that will allow exploration of what may be perceived as unknown. By joining in, Leon County will immediately inherit the large burden of prosecuting, in short order, a challenge to this permit. This will obviously be a large expense to all parties involved, especially if delay is caused to the project for which damages are recovered.”
Grady County officials are also questioning the involvement of Tall Timbers Research Station in Leon County’s actions.
According to Cauley, there is little doubt that Tall Timbers has actively communicated with Leon County on the project and has produced three publications that alleged the Tired Creek project would be a threat to the environment.
Cauley also pointed out that an attachment to the Leon County Commission’s agenda packet for last Tuesday’s meeting included a memo from a Tall Timber’s official to an employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Messenger contacted Neil Fleckenstein, the planning coordinator for Tall Timbers, and he told the newspaper, “Tall Timbers has had no conversations with Commissioner Desloge or other Leon County Commissioners regarding the pending lawsuit concerning the Tired Creek project.”
However, Commissioner Desloge in his statement to The Messenger stated, “our staff has had contact with Tall Timbers staff on this issue.”
Fleckenstein continues to assert that in an April 2010 correspondence the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised “significant concerns with the project” and “it will significantly degrade streams and wetlands.”
What Fleckenstein does not say, according to Cauley, is that after the EPA letter was written, Grady County officials and their consultants met with not only EPA officials but other federal, Georgia and Florida agencies in Grady County and took a tour of the project site and ultimately EPA consented to the permit’s issuance.
“It is the EPA that has veto authority of the issuance of our permit and they didn’t object. The permit also was not issued until Georgia EPD issued a clean water certificate endorsing it,” Cauley said.
Misinformation is just what Cauley and the Grady County commission are hoping to clarify in a meeting with Leon County officials if they will only respond to invitations to sit down and talk.
Grady County Commission Chairman Charles Norton declined to comment on the situation with Leon County. When asked if he thought the two bodies would meet prior to Leon County intervening in the suit Norton said, “your guess is as good as mine.”
In other related news this week, Grady County officials met last week with landscape architects and land planners David Malcom and Charlie Johnson of the firm of Wood & Partners to go over work on the master lake development plan.
County leaders met at Wood & Partners’ Tallahassee office Thursday to review the plan which encompasses the lake, buffer area and uses.
According to County Attorney Cauley, the county’s consultants are coordinating the submission of the master lake development plan, fisheries management plan and other studies that must be approved by the Corps of Engineers.
“I am pleased with the work Wood & Partners has done. I thought we had a productive meeting with them,” Chairman Norton said
County officials say they are pleased with the progress with the construction project and seeing through fruition.
Cauley says the plans will be submitted to the Corps within the next 30 to 60 days
On Tuesday of this week, commissioners unanimously approved payment of an invoice for $38,256.32 to Wm. Thomas Craig’s office for work related to the Tired Creek project.
This week the county commission also accepted the low bid of $19,250 submitted by Williams Land Surveying of Cairo for the surveying of mitigation property the county is seeking that adjoins the city of Cairo’s greenway project.

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