The Oconee County Board of Commissioners decided in executive session last week to begin discussions with the owners of two key pieces of property needed to create a recreational greenspace along the Oconee River at Barnett Shoals.
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis sent an email message to the county’s Citizen Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs Chairwoman Leslie Hunsinger on Wednesday informing her of the Commission action of the night before.
Davis also encouraged Hunsinger to share his email with others, including with members of the county Historical Society and of a Historic and Scenic Site Subcommittee that had recommended the project as one worthy of funding with county Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue.
Davis sent the email to Hunsinger even though the Board discussed the possible land acquisition in executive session rather than in public last week under the provision of the state’s Open Meetings Law, which allows governing bodies to discuss potential land acquisition out of public view.
On a completely unrelated matter, the county issued a Boil Water advisory this afternoon for all residents of Bouldercrest subdivison off Hog Mountain Road after a “severe water main break.” Details are on the county web site.
Email From Gentry
Oconee County Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry sent Davis and county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko an email message on the morning of Oct. 21 after the Recreational Affairs Committee meeting the evening before voted to support the greenway project.
Gentry told Davis and Benko that the citizen group had recommended that the BOC “discuss with the two land owners” possible ways in which the land could be made available for recreational use.
Gentry asked Davis and Benko if they wanted a formal request in writing or if they wanted the citizen committee to make a formal presentation to the BOC.
Benko was out sick that week, and Davis did not put the item on the agenda for last week’s meeting.
Gentry And Page Present
Both Gentry and Russ Page, who has been the driving force behind preservation of historic sites along the stretch of the Oconee River south of Barnett Shoals Road, were present at the meeting last week.
Gentry gave a presentation to the Board about plans to upgrade the walking path at the Bogart Sports Complex, but he was not asked about the Recreational Affairs Committee recommendation.
At the end of the regular meeting, after County Clerk Jane Greathouse reviewed the agenda for tomorrow night’s meeting, Davis simply told County Attorney Daniel Haygood that there was a need for an executive session “to discuss a little bit of land acquisition and personnel matters.”
OCO: Executive Session Oct. 27, 2015 from Lee Becker on Vimeo
Neither Gentry nor Page were invited into the executive session.
Greathouse told me last week that the BOC took no action when it returned to open session after completing the closed meeting.
Davis told Recreational Affairs Committee Chairwoman Hunsinger that “We are asking a staff member to follow up with the two property owners” discussed by the citizen committee at its meeting on Oct. 20.
The unnamed staff member will contact the property owners “so we may have additional information In order to determine the feasibility of acquiring or options available for acquisition,” the email said. (The quote is as written by Davis.)
The identity of those property owners is not a secret.
Gentry said he had met with representatives of the White family, which owns 163 acres on both sides of the river above and below a power dam, and with the Marshall family, which owns15 acres on the east side of the river near the dam.
Gentry told Davis and Benko in his email message on Oct. 21 that he had met with Gilbert Milner representing the White family and Travis Marshall representing the Marshall property.
Citizens approved spending revenue earmarked in the 2009 and 2015 SPLOSTs for scenic and historic preservation, and Gentry has spearheaded an effort to get citizens involved in identifying projects that could be funded with those monies.
Gentry created the Historic and Scenic Site Subcommittee for just that purpose, and that group selected the Barnett Shoals project as its top priority. The Recreational Affairs Committee approved that recommendation at its meeting on Oct. 20.
The greenway would be part of a larger project that would preserve a complex of historic sites along the Oconee River in the area south of Barnett Shoals Road.
A small part of Oconee County is on the eastern side of the Oconee River at that point, and the land on both sides of the river includes ancient native sites as well as remnants of a fort and mill town used by European settlers.
The proposed greenway would be a major quality of life addition for Oconee County. Some of the best places to live in the country have had greenways in place for decades, not just out west in Colorado and Oregon, but Greenville SC, Chattanooga, etc. Greenways have value whether for public health, transportation, or just being able to appreciate nature (and Lord knows we need to reintroduce our youth to nature!). The best one's have connections to schools, parks, libraries, etc.
Yes, there will be NIMBY's, Not In My Back Yarder's, who will whine about the spectre of crime and other nonsense. Greenways have time and time again proved to increase property values and to have low crime rates. I lived in metro Atlanta when the Silver Comet Trail in ultraconservative Cobb County was proposed; you would have thought it was the end of the world. What happened? People of all ages embraced it quickly, and it became a major economic engine, increased property values, attracted housing, with all the predictions of crime non-starters. It's been surprisingly popular with older adults.
This is the type of project that makes Oconee a destination, something that will attract business and homeowners. Kudo's to all involved! Lookout for the very cool Firefly trail too (http://www.fireflytrail.com/).
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