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Commissioners delay action on lake authority’s recommendation

Officials ignored
advice of forestry
consultant in 2013
Grady County’s consultant for the future development of Tired Creek Lake made the case in person Tuesday night for the harvesting of trees remaining in the lake bed, but county commissioners delayed action on the recommendation of the Grady County Lake Authority.
The authority voted 4-1 last week to accept the recommendation of consultant William F. Butler to cut the remaining trees to improve the lake views and create maximum return on the sale of waterfront lots. Only authority member Ray Prince voted in opposition while authority Chairman Lee Gainous, and authority members Edgar Smith, LaDon Toole and Randolph Wind voted to accept the consultant’s recommendation and forward that recommendation to the county commission contingent on the plan not violating the county’s federal 404 permit.
On Tuesday night, Butler shared the findings of his preliminary research on the impact that leaving the trees standing could have on future lot sales based on sales at other area lakes.
Conservatively, Butler said the loss of value could be between $4 to $6 million if the trees are not cut. “It could be even more than that,” Butler said.
“People will pay more for views and this would allow us to create more of a view shed,” Butler said.
The consultant said based on the county’s debt on the lake and the need to recoup that investment he is focused on creating the greatest return possible from the sale of lots and the increased value to the tax digest.
He suggested if he were told he would need to spend $200,000 upfront for a $4 million return on investment he would do it every day. “However, I’m spending your money, not mine and I respect that,” Butler said.
The county and lake authority are currently soliciting qualifications from firms to conduct a real estate market study, which Butler said would generate more detailed estimates on lot values at the lake. He said his recommendation was based on his preliminary research of lot sales at Lake Blackshear and Lake Talquin and his experience with waterfront development.
Commissioner Keith Moye asked if the timber company awarded the bid to harvest the timber in the lake bed originally had not already been compensated to take out all of the trees.
Moye, who noted that the bids on the timber were awarded prior to his election, said it was his understanding the county agreed to a discounted purchase price for the timber based on the high bidder clear cutting the trees and cleaning the lake bottom.
“If they’ve already been paid, why shouldn’t they come back and cut these trees?” Moye asked.
Commissioner T.D. David said the county commission stopped the clear cutting and racking on the lake bottom on the advice of either the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Bill Dance Signature Lakes or both.
“Did they give us money back?” Moye asked.
“I don’t know if they gave us money back,” Commissioner David responded.
In September 2013 the county accepted the high bid of $654,000 from N&W Timber, a local firm, for the purchase of the timber at the lake site and the required cleanup following the timber harvest. Other bids received were $435,035.35 from Flint River Timber, also a local firm, and $325,000 from Beasley Timber Management of Hazelhurst, Ga.
Prior to the board taking action in January 2014 to release N&W Timber from the requirement to cut all of the timber and the original cleanup, the county’s forestry consultant, Russell Fowler, reminded county officials in December 2013 that the county had forfeited several hundreds of thousands of dollars on the timber to cover the cost of the clean up. “If we’re not going to require them to completely clear it then we need to look how to recoup that money. There is money there,” Fowler said in December 2013.
Then in January 2014 the board approved the recommendation of the lake authority to hire Bill Dance Signature Lakes and officials of the consulting firm recommended against removing all of the debris from the lake bed. A contract modification with N&W Timber was approve, but it appears the county did not seek to recoup anything from N&W Timber as recommended by Fowler.
“I have a hard time paying to have the trees cut if we approved it previously and they didn’t do the work,” Moye said Tuesday night. He added, “We could have gotten more money if it was done that way to start with.”
Commissioner David suggested delaying action. “We don’t have enough information to say yea or nay. The sentiment I’m hearing is to leave the trees alone and not spend any more money at the lake, but when you dangle $4 to $6 million out there it is very tempting,” David said.
Grady County Administrator Carlos Tobar suggested county crews could possibly cut down trees in the upper fingers of the lake. Vice Chairman Prince said it would take a “swamp crew” to be able to get in there to cut the trees down. Prince also said the county needed to hear from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley reported earlier in the meeting that Tired Creek consultant Laura Benz had said the permit allowed the county to harvest all of the trees in the lake bed as long as the buffers were not impacted. Cauley said he was unaware of anyone from the county contacting the Corps directly and advised the county rely on Benz, who has developed relationships with Corps officials, to handle communications with the regulatory agency.
According to Tobar, he was instructed to contact the Corps by Vice Chairman Prince and the county administrator contacted Project Manager – Regulatory Division Terry Kobs in an email June 22, but no final determination had been communicated. When questioned by The Messenger, Tobar said that Kobs had requested to know exactly what trees the county was planning to cut. Tobar also requested an answer from Kobs regarding if septic tanks would be allowed around the lake or not.
“At the end of the day I’m here to execute what you ask me to do, regardless of your decision, we will work to make this project as successful as we possibly can,” Butler said.
The board took no action on the lake authority’s recommendation.

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