Fowler contends county was not paid full value of timber at lake

The former timber consultant for the Grady County Board of Commissioners confirmed Tuesday night that the county lost out on approximately $600,000 in revenue from the sale of timber in the Tired Creek Lake bed by revising its contract with N&W Timber in January 2014. That change released the firm from cutting all of the timber and the extensive cleaning of the lake bottom.
Russell Fowler, who was originally retained as the county’s timber consultant in 2003, appeared before the board Tuesday night to answer questions regarding the 2013 timber sale.
County commissioners ignored Fowler’s advice in December 2013 to renegotiate with N&W Timber to recoup some of the lost revenue when the county commission decided to alter its plans for the timber harvest and clearing of the lake bed.
Fowler said the county sold the timber at a discount because of the original terms of the contract, which included the harvesting of all of the timber and cleaning of the lake bed.
“The basic plan was to begin with was a clean slate,” he said. The consultant said that all marketable timber was to be hauled off and what could not be marketed was to be dropped and put into piles the county forces could burn.
The former county consultant’s firm also bid on the timber back in 2013. According to Fowler, the value of the county’s timber was approximately $1.2 million to $1.4 million. He obtained a bid from Brad Cole Construction, the contractor on the Tired Creek dam who routinely does cleanup like the county originally required. Fowler said the estimate for the cleanup was $800,000, so he reduced his bid for the timber by that amount and offered to pay the county $435,035.35. N&W Timber offered the highest bid at $654,000 and the only other bidder was Beasley Timber Management of Hazelhurst for $325,000.
Fowler said it was his understanding that Department of Natural Resources recommended against clear cutting of the lake bottom to provide fish habitat. He said later officials with Bill Dance Signature Lakes made similar recommendations and ultimately the county commission revised the contract, but did not seek compensation for the loss in timber value.
“I came before you in December 2013 to protest and it was noted in the paper (The Messenger),” Fowler said.
Commissioner T.D. David said Tuesday night he had nothing in writing to back up what he had been told, but said that he had had a telephone conversation with Clay Norton of N&W Timber and was told that what has been alleged is not what actually took place and the county was paid in full for the timber.
Fowler contends the county was paid half of the value of the timber and he noted that he had copies of the original contracts and was part of the drawing up of the contracts. He suggested the county contact Beasley Timber Management and they could confirm the value of the timber.
David suggested he and Fowler have a discussion outside of a public meeting to discuss further.
Also during Tuesday night’s meeting, Fowler weighed in on the debate over whether or not to attempt to harvest the timber left in the lake bed.
The Grady County Lake Authority and its consultant William F. Butler have previously recommended to the board that the remaining trees be removed to provide unobstructed views of the lake from the shoreline.
Fowler said there was no safe way to remove the trees without draining the lake and allowing the bottom to dry out. He predicted that allowing someone to attempt to cut down the trees from a boat would be hazardous and a liability for the county.
“It’s a sad time when you have people here tonight protesting about their taxes and you are trying to fix something you already paid for,” Fowler said.
Lake Authority Chairman Lee Gainous, who attended the meeting Tuesday night, said he had brought forward the recommendation to the board because he said it was his obligation to make the board aware of the potential loss of value from the sale of lots due to the lack of a clear view of the lake.
Commission Vice Chairman Ray Prince said that any loss of value was speculation on the part of Butler.
Commissioner Keith Moye asked Fowler to offer his opinion on the county taking down the trees that are not flooded, but soon will be. Fowler said some of the trees that have been left in the upper fingers of the lake could be felled in such a way they would not float down to the dam.
“You can walk an excavator down into those areas,” Fowler said.
Commissioner David asked County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley for his opinion on the tree issue. Cauley said that clearly Butler is a real estate expert and he had strongly recommended the trees be removed. The attorney also noted that since the recommendation was first made over a month ago the lake level has risen from 207 to 210 feet above sea level.
“Time is of the essence,” Cauley said.
After further discussion and public comment from members of the audience, David offered a motion to not accept the recommendation of the authority to harvest the timber in the flooded lake bed but to take out those that county forces can reach in the upper fingers. The motion passed unanimously.

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