Monday, March 22, 2010

Elder Mill Bridge Forum Scheduled for Thursday Night At Oconee County Library

Three Points of View

A forum on Elder Mill Bridge is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville.

Russ Page, a land-preservation activist and proponent of a park on land surrounding the bridge, Peggy Holcomb, director of tourism for Oconee County, and Wayne Provost, strategic and long-range planning director for the county, have agreed to speak, according to forum organizer Jonathan R. Veit.

Though the forum is intended to be a non-partisan, informational event, it has been endorsed by the Oconee County Democratic Committee, of which Veit is chairman.

According to Veit, Page will talk about the land surrounding the bridge and his efforts to preserve it. Holcomb will talk about the impact of creating the park on tourism, he said, and Provost will talk about “the governmental processes and jurisdictions and hurdles involved.”

In 2007, John Gentry, director of Parks and Recreation for Oconee County, presented the Board of Commissioners a plan for a 580-acre park that would incorporate the wooden, covered Elder Mill Bridge, the nearby Elder Mill itself, and surrounding land, including the historic W. Joe Elder cemetery.

The BOC refused to spend any county money on the project. In January, 2.3 acres of land just used by many visitors to the area to access the shoals of Rose Creek beneath the bridge went onto the market and quickly under contract. What the new owner plans in terms of allowing public access is unclear.

At the town hall style meeting held by the BOC on Feb. 16, Page asked the commissioners about their level of commitment to the proposed park. All five of the commissioners said the county should attempt to purchase the mill, but only Commissioner Margaret Hale spoke in favor of county involvement in a broader park.

Chairman Melvin Davis said on the day of the town hall meeting in an interview on WGUA that there was “not a huge amount of conversation taking place (about the park) but there is a group of folks that desire that.”

To register the amount of support for a park, Veit has created an online petition for people to sign.

At the meeting on Thursday night, each of the three speakers will be given about 15 minutes to talk, Veit said. Then the audience will have the opportunity to comment and ask questions.

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