An Oconee County historic and scenic sites committee on Tuesday night is scheduled to make its recommendation that the county spend Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue on preservation of the historic Barnett Shoals area along the Oconee River and on renovation of the old jail behind the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The Committee—actually a subcommittee of the Recreational Affairs Committee and of the Cultural Affairs and Tourism Committee—will make its report to those two full committees at 6 p.m. at the Community Center in Oconee Veterans Park.
At its meeting on June 18, the subcommittee voted to make its recommendations to the two committees with the goal of moving the projects forward to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners for approval.
The proposal is to fund purchase of easements on property surrounding the old Georgia Power Dam and the historic Barnette Shoals area as well as develop interpretive signs for that project and to fund renovation of the jail to make it a museum.
On the initiative of John Gentry, director of Oconee County Parks and Recreation, the Recreational Affairs Committee, in collaboration with the Cultural Affairs and Tourism Committee, created the Historic and Scenic Sites Subcommittee to review proposals for spending SPLOST funds on historic and scenic projects.
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last year allocated $250,000 specifically for historic and scenic projects from the $1.1 million in 2009 SPLOST funds earmarked for “recreational, historic and scenic facilities.”
It also put $250,000 in the 2015 SPLOST for historic and scenic projects. The 2015 sales tax initiative was approved by voters last November and goes into effect on Oct. 1.
But Commissioners provided no mechanism for selecting projects to be funded by the 2009 and 2015 SPLOST monies.
Citizen Control Over SPLOST
In Oconee County, the Board of Commissioners makes decisions on how to allocate SPLOST monies after voters approve the general funding categories in the SPLOST referendum.
In other counties, including in neighboring Athens-Clarke County, citizen committees evaluate specific projects and monitor and control how SPLOST monies actually are spent.
To broaden the input on the Historic and Scenic Sites Subcommittee, the two originating committees added representatives of the Keep Oconee County Beautiful Commission and of the Oconee Historical Society.
The seven-member subcommittee has met four times, most recently on June 18, when it designated the three projects as those it is recommending for SPLOST funding.
Three Projects Proposed
The Historic and Scenic Sites Subcommittee invited Russ Page, an advocate of historic preservation in the county, to make a presentation to the Subcommittee at its meeting on Feb. 19.
Page proposed that the county preserve the Elder Mill on Rose Creek just downstream from the Elder Mill Covered Bridge.
He also proposed preservation of a triangular piece of Oconee County on both the eastern and western sides of the Oconee River. Included is a town sometimes called Barnett, sometimes called Barnett Shoals, and sometimes called Rutherford.
Page also proposed a walk along the Apalachee River from Heritage Park to Apalachee Beach, about five miles downstream from the county park frontage on the river.
According to the draft minutes of the June 18 meeting of the Subcommittee, the group ranked as the top priority purchase of easements on property that would be part of a Barnett Shoals historical area.
That project would surround the existing Georgia Power Dam on the river.
The second priority, suggested by Subcommittee members, is making the old jail behind and attached to the Courthouse in Watkinsville into a museum made accessible to the public via tours.
The third priority was putting additional resources into the Barnett Shoals preservation project, including installing interpretative signs and development of a greenway.
The Subcommittee is recommending that the two parent citizen committees approve these projects and send them forward to the Board of Commissioners, which must approve the spending of SPLOST monies.