County official shares some information on mitigation issue
Issues regarding the alleged encroachment on Grady County mitigation sites in south Grady County and the growing legal bills associated with them were not discussed publicly during Tuesday’s Grady County Commission meeting.
However, following the meeting Grady County Commission Chairman Ray Prince did answer some of The Messenger’s questions regarding the issue.
“Actually there are two sites that have issues and one is not as bad as the other,” Chairman Prince said.
Since the county purchased the mitigation easement from the previous owner, the easement runs through property now owned by Clayton L. Norton and John Randall Holton, according to Prince.
The commission chairman said he did not know when the county was first alerted by its ecological consultants. However, Prince says that on the easement on Norton’s property it appears the damage was caused by four wheelers or some similar vehicle being driven through the easement. “If it is left alone and not disturbed the vegetation should grow back,” Prince said.
The easement on the Holton property is more involved, according to Prince.
Allegedly, Holton modified the property improperly to make it flood when the river rises, and he also planted corn, which Prince said would attract ducks.
“Randy (Holton) is a good guy. He knows he messed up and he is willing to pay to fix it,” Chairman Prince said. With regard to the county’s additional legal bills associated with the encroachment, Prince says Holton should be held responsible for paying those bills, as well.
“The way I look at it, the county wouldn’t have these extra bills if this had not happened so the county shouldn’t be responsible for it,” Prince said.
Through April 30 the county had paid $21,974.95 in legal fees to attorney Laura Benz for work on this issue and potentially other permit compliance issues.
Failure to earn full credit for creating the specified wetlands in the county’s mitigation plan and required by the federal 404 permit issued authorizing the construction of Tired Creek Lake could cost the county millions of dollars in additional expense.
In 2016, due to the failure of another county consultant to adhere to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved mitigation plan, the county had to spend $5.8 million to obtain mitigation credits in order to comply with the requirements of its 404 permit.
On May 25, The Messenger submitted a list of questions as well as a copy of public records regarding the encroachment and other potential compliance issues to Benz, Chairman Prince as well as County Attorney Jennifer Herzog and County Clerk Carrie Croy.
County officials have not responded to the newspaper’s request, but Benz responded late last Thursday. She said that she had provided a proposal for the board’s consideration and planned to brief the entire board at its June 19 meeting.
Commission Vice Chair T.D. David said Tuesday that Benz and the board would hold a teleconference on June 19. He said the board was not willing to pay for Benz to appear in person.
Benz’s proposal to the board was not discussed Tuesday.
During the public participation portion of Tuesday morning’s meeting, former commissioner Charles Renaud requested additional information about the encroachment on the mitigation easement. “Are the private individuals involved going to pay to fix it and pay the legal bills? It doesn’t need to fall on the taxpayer,” Renaud said.
Renaud also demanded to know who the property owners were who were involved. He claimed that if the name Renaud was on it, then it would be widely known who was responsible.
The board did not respond to Renaud’s comments.