When Columbia County commissioners unexpectedly turned down a proposal to spend money on a study for clearing silt out of Bowen Pond, it left many observers scratching their heads.
A couple of years earlier, the commissioners had seemed united in welcoming the gift of Bowen Pond from its West Lake owners. The property became part of the county's inventory of greenspace in 2003.
But there already were problems lurking just below the surface of the deal. A contingent of West Lake representatives a year or so later appeared before commissioners, asking for help in dredging silt that had settled in the pond.
The silt got there the same way it arrived in Jones Creek's pond, where nearby homeowners a couple of years ago spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on dredging: It washed away from construction sites.
Columbia County, which has a checkered history regarding its ability to keep dirt from washing into local streams, in the past few months ran into problems with silt enforcement from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The EPD threatened to take away the county's ability to enforce its own rules. But local politicians met with EPD officials and averted serious sanctions.
So with the county facing demands that it dig sand out of what is now its own pond, which is enjoyed mostly by the West Lake and Stevens Pointe communities around it, three commissioners have balked.
Cross expressed surprise at the vote, in which only Lee Anderson joined him to approve starting the project. Steve Brown - who represents the district in which the pond is located, and who is not seeking re-election - voted against spending nearly $50,000 to prepare to dredge the pond.
He was joined by commissioners Tom Mercer and Diane Ford, who each live in neighborhoods with their own big ponds. Mercer's own Springlakes neighborhood has already spent its own funds to dredge that community's lake.
One unspoken wrinkle in all this? Let's say the commissioners decided to go ahead with the study and permits, and spent the estimated $1.1 million cost of dredging Bowen Pond.
Later, commissioners decide to put together a bond referendum for roughly $34 million in capital improvement projects, including stormwater projects Mercer badly wants in his district.
If the West Lake and Stevens Pointe citizens were already getting their pond cleaned up, what incentive would they have to support a hike in their taxes to clean up someone else's?
By making them stand in line with everyone else, the commissioners now have leverage if they need to twist the arms of West Lake voters for a bond referendum later.
I guess we'll find out if that referendum comes up, and Bowen Pond is one of the items listed for repair.
One thing is certain: If you see mud in a creek after it rains, that dirt is washing off from somewhere, and settling somewhere else. Taxpayers can either pay to dig it out later, or demand the county work harder to keep dirt from getting in the creeks to start with.
More PE, less band?
Band directors, art teachers and other educators are buzzing over passage of Senate Bill 474, the Student Health and Fitness Act.
Lawmakers in Georgia have engaged in an epidemic of school micromanagement this year, and this bill might be the worst. It mandates 150 minutes per week of physical education in elementary schools, and 225 minutes per week in middle schools.
If this passes, among all the other destruction to non-academic enrichment programs, you can kiss middle-school band goodbye. If you think such programs should survive, call state Rep. Ben Harbin at (404) 463-2247, or state Reps. Sue Burmeister and Barry Fleming at (404) 656-5024 and tell them so.
You also may e-mail them at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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