There are a few facts in The News-Times recent editorial regarding the cleanup of Bowen Pond which are as muddied as the pond as I look out my window ("Bond is about more than Bowen Pond," Aug. 20).
The editorial is correct in stating that Columbia County did not purchase Bowen Pond. It is entirely incorrect in its implication that the resident's of West Lake and Stevens Pointe gave the county, " ...a pig in a poke." Nor did these same residents, "ask the county to clean up their gift," as the editorial stated.
The pond has been silting in for several years. The county repeatedly has been made aware of this fact. Area residents have presented photographic evidence of this siltation to county authorities on numerous occasions. The area of silting in the pond has now created sand bars and dry land where once folks could canoe and fish. Homes purchased as lake-front property are no longer bordered by a tranquil pond but by a muddy stream flowing through mounds of silt and debris.
This siltation is the direct result of Columbia County government failing to respond to multiple demands that the county's own regulations regarding siltation and run off from developing properties be managed according to county and state regulations. This fact has been admitted by county officials during recent open meetings on the upcoming bond referendum.
As the silting became more of a problem, it was brought to the attention of the former owner of Bowen Pond, Carl Sanders - not West lake and Stevens Pointe residents. Sanders is a man with a greater reputation for very sharp real estate dealings rather than for excessive philanthropy. Rather than deal with the problems, created in part by his own projects, he chose to pass the buck in the form of a magnanimous "gift" of the pond to Columbia County.
It was made clear to county government that acceptance of the pond would include responsibility for maintenance. This was acknowledged by the commissioners as they voted to accept the pond and to include it in the greenspace inventory.
Now we have our county in danger of coming under fire from the Georgia Environmental Protective Division for failing to follow local, state and federal guidelines involving streams and pollution by construction runoff, when the only thing actually attempted was to add a lovely pond to the protected areas of greenspace. This was in no way a burden placed on the county by area homeowners, but was the result of the former owner appearing to be magnanimous, when the true motive was environmental irresponsibility.
As to public access and who pays for the cleanup, one could argue that homeowners should share in the cost of the cleanup and maintenance if they are to have exclusive use of the pond. Most of the residents bordering the pond have expressed willingness to do so, but feel the major responsibility belongs to the county.
The question of public access is not simple. There is nothing in the greenspace regulations that requires public access to lands protected by the greenspace regulations even when owned by the county. Much of the land in the greenspace inventory is now or will be placed under conservation easement and managed by a third party.
In the case of Bowen Pond, there is no point of public access other than the county-owned causeway where Stevens Way crosses between the upper and lower pond. Access here would be difficult at best due to the marsh and muck resulting from the very siltation under discussion. Additionally, there is a condition attached to the deed given to the county by Sanders stipulating that there is to be no public access to the pond.
Lastly, in a time when our county is struggling with problems created by growth and prosperity, and we see such a horrid example of the lack of these next door. In a time when our community spirit is strained by divisiveness and class envy, and we face a glaring example of the consequences in our neighboring county. Why would The News-Times write such an inflammatory editorial with the statement that, " Westlake and Stevens Pointe residents don't want to allow public access to Bowen Pond"? I have not found that to be the case with many of the area residents.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross has honorably stated that the county knowingly assumed an obligation for maintenance when the pond was accepted by the county and that the county must fulfill that obligation. His memory seems to be better than Commissioner Steve Brown, who seems a victim of politically expedient amnesia.
The editorial's opening paragraph states, "There is plenty of misinformation which needs to be nipped in the bud." I agree completely, and would suggest that many of the buds are on The News-Times' own bush.
S. Allan Stocks, M.D., Martinez
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