A pond became a clear dividing line among Columbia County commissioners Tuesday night, but some of them said the reason behind the disagreement wasn't so apparent.
"I'm mystified as to what really has gone on,'' said Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross a day after the board's Tuesday meeting. "... I don't know what happened. I'm just surprised and disappointed that we just disavowed any responsibility pertaining to that pond, but I guess they (commissioners Steve Brown, Tommy Mercer and Diane Ford) have got their reasons.''
The issue involved Bowen Pond, which is county-owned as of more than a year ago and borders communities such as Westlake.
At the Columbia County Board of Commissioners' Tuesday night meeting, a proposal was presented to start a study to determine what work is needed at the pond, which officials agree is in need of maintenance.
Billy Clayton, the county's waterworks director, said the proposal was for $29,500 for the environmental study and $17,000 for environmental permitting issues.
In the end, the proposal was voted down by a vote of 3-2, with Brown, Mercer and Ford voting to deny the request in light of a pending Capital Improvements Plan in which such needed projects will be prioritized and addressed with a more than $30 million bond issue.
Tuesday night's vote, though, Cross said, goes against a previous vote by the commission, in which he said the commission unanimously accepted the pond as greenspace in 2003. He said that agreement came with the understanding that maintenance would be conducted there.
Cross said the county sent out a letter in November 2004 to those in the area of the pond stating that work would occur there.
"I'm kind of embarrassed that the county's got a pond there in that shape that we're not going to accept responsibility to take care of and when we're encouraging other pond owners, communities, to do maintenance on their ponds now,'' Cross said. "If we didn't want to take it then that's all right, but it was a unanimous vote of the commission to accept it as greenspace.''
Cross and Commissioner Lee Anderson were the lone votes in favor of proceeding with the study of the pond.
"We committed to do it and that's why I voted the way I voted,'' Anderson said. "We had given our word that we were going to clean it up.''
At Tuesday night's meeting, Mercer said he was against proceeding with the engineering study because Bowen Pond is already listed on the county's Capital Improvements list and the project should first go through that process of prioritization.
Brown agreed that the project should be looked at in the Capital Improvements list and shouldn't be singled out, adding that other areas also are in need of maintenance. He also said the deed to the pond did not require the county to conduct maintenance.
"I would go upstream (from the pond) first and make those repairs,'' he said, adding that originally the cost figure for work to Bowen Pond was about $200,000 but that the figure had been revised to $1 million.
"To spend this taxpayer money at this point, I'm not in favor of it,'' he said.
Ford said her main issue was with where the money would come from.
"I think the funding source is the holdup here,'' she said.
Cross then asked if he could use some of his discretionary money to fund the study. On Wednesday, Cross said he wouldn't decide on the discretionary money option until after a Capital Improvements prioritizing meeting that is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 6 at the new Evans library.
In other action at Tuesday's meeting, commissioners also unanimously gave the go-ahead Tuesday night for a needs assessment study that will help prioritize storm-water projects.
The assessment is to be conducted by the firm Jordan, Jones and Goulding at a cost of $66,000, according to county documents. Clayton, the county's waterworks director, said he expects a report from the study could be completed and presented to county commissioners within six months.
"It's the first step toward a (storm-water) master plan,'' he said.
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