County responds to questions raised by Libertarian party official

The Grady County Commission has issued a response to a laundry list of questions about the Tired Creek Lake project raised last week by the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Grady County.
John Monds appeared before the county commission last week and demanded information ranging from issues with the county’s mitigation plan to questions of conflicts of interest.
After consulting with the county attorney and other attorneys involved in the project as well as consulting engineers working on the lake, Chairman LaFaye Copeland released an extensive response to questions and concerns raised by the political party official.
In response, Chairman Copeland stated:
I am writing in response to your letter dated March 17, 2015 which you presented at the Commission Meeting of the same date. I have asked our attorneys and engineers working on the areas of the lake you had questions about to assist me in responding to your specific list of questions as best we can. They have assisted me in drafting this letter.  
As you noted, the Corps began its inspection of our mitigation construction with its site-visit this past December. This was the first time it was noted that the regulators felt there may be deviations in what was planned for mitigation and what was built. The Corps explained on site that they needed some follow up information from us detailing what was built and that we could then meet to discuss what additional work may be needed to complete our mitigation obligation. Our consultants timely provided all the information requested in follow up by the Corps. and requested to meet with them to discuss the same. However, the Corps chose to send the Feb. 17, 2015 letter you reference without the benefit of a meeting or any further discussion with the County’s consultants. As you will note in the Feb. 17 letter, no specific direction was given as to what was considered a deviation, whether the directive concerned all sites, or was particular to some of the sites. Regardless, our consultants provided the requested written response on March 10, 2015 and again followed up with a request to meet. A copy of the March 10 response generated by our engineer is included for your review.
The County takes our obligation to fulfill our mitigation obligation very seriously and, of course, intends to continue to diligently comply with all aspects of our permit. It is our hope that clear direction on what additional mitigation work will be required will be forth coming very soon. It is the County’s obligation to construct and maintain its mitigation. Of course, if remediation is required as a result of error on the part of any of our engineers or contractors involved, then other remedies may be explored as to the responsible party(s) for costs. No determination in that regard can be made until the requirements for completion are clear. As a result, it is premature to explore mitigation banks or other similar credits. The County has no intention of building a mitigation bank; we are simply diligently pursuing the fulfillment of our mitigation obligation under our current lake permit. Further, although it is our sincere belief legal action will be avoided and these issues will be resolved without delaying the fill of the lake, these issues do pose a threat for regulatory action, or other legal action. In that regard discussion of these issues is highly sensitive and, as the need arises, the Board will continue closed session discussions of these pending legal matters.
Over a year ago the County and Authority began discussing in earnest the additional finances that would be needed to complete the lake. The original bond issue of $15 million was intended to supplement the county reserves to construct the dam, but was never contemplated to be adequate funding to complete the entire infrastructure needed for the public to access and enjoy the lake. As you may recall, this was the period we began discussing with our design team (including Wood & Partners, ATM, Bill Dance Co, and Watkins Engineering) what this infrastructure would look like and cost. Early on our Administrator had hoped to be able to seek adequate grant funding to complete the project without the need for additional debt. He had also estimated our reserves at a higher level than what turned out to be the case. By last summer it was becoming apparent that all outside grant funding opportunities had been exhausted. Further, the County and Authority are ever mindful that we need to fill as soon as is practical to mitigate the expense of regeneration of vegetation in the cleared lake bed and fish stocking reserves already in place. Further, we then knew for certain the infrastructure located underwater will take significant time to construct.  
At the request of the Board, each member of the design team developed early cost estimates and the County and Authority had a number of meetings throughout the summer and fall to discuss the same. Finally, it was decided that the County wanted to build certain road improvements, marina, and access points consistent with the master plan approved by the Corps.  All infrastructure being designed, including the sewer infrastructure under the lake’s surface, will be constructed consistent with our 404 permit (which incorporates the Mater Lake Development Plan you referenced). Based on these cost estimates it was determined that between $8.4 and $10 million in additional funding was needed outside of what was already in the County coffers. In early November 2014 the County formally requested the Authority issue bonds to satisfy this financial need.
In the months prior to the formal request for the issuance of bonds, the County had several meetings with bond underwriters and counsel to discuss options. Included in these discussions were estimates of closing costs, including attorney’s fees of which you note our local counsel shared in. The final closing costs were in keeping with the estimates originally given and were a known expense by the County and Authority in issuing the debt.  Specifically, Mr. Cauley’s fees included his representation of the County as local counsel and his representation of the Authority as their local counsel. As no adverse interest exist with these parties, no conflict exists. The Board was certainly aware prior to pursuing a bond that Mr. Cauley was to be compensated for his services and the fees paid are in line with the work performed and similar fees paid by the County in previous bond issues. Further, his work on this particular issue was a heavier load than normal as many issues existed with the County’s reporting, finances, and credit rating that required his attention that are not a normal part of his obligations as local bond counsel.
The project purpose stated in the bond disclosures describes what the proceeds from the bond can be used for. These funds are restricted. This is obviously a very large, and one time, investment our County is making in this resource. Prior to the formal decision to pursue the bond, it was discovered that the County reserves were depleted and not near as high as once disclosed by the administration. As a result, it became imperative that we issue debt to fulfill not only the additional infrastructure described above, but also to complete the mitigation and dam construction nearing completion. The project description was amended to include this construction so that some bond funds could be used to repay the County’s general fund that had recently been expended for dam and mitigation construction. These issues were the subject of much debate, leading up to the eve of the issue of debt. Further the description was drafted to include all the proposed infrastructure elements proposed, including the sewer infrastructure you specifically asked about.  Included with this letter you will also find a copy of the project purpose describing how the bond funds can be used.
Finally, you took specific issue with the service of Randy Wind on the Lake Authority. He is appointed by the Board and has served as its Secretary without any compensation since its inception. We are thankful for his service and unaware of any personal gain he has received from his service or conflict.  
This letter is as complete a response as the County can provide to your inquiries and criticisms expressed on March 17. Our meetings should follow an agenda dealing in the business directed by the Board. The ability of the public to comment and access these open meetings is an important right we all cherish. Our agenda allows comments of this nature to be made as directed in the Public Comments portion of the meeting. In the future, I ask similar comments and inquiries be given then and I have instructed our Administrator of the same.
I appreciate and share in your love and concern for our community.
Sincerely,
LaFaye Copeland
Chairman,
Grady County Commission

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