ELLIJAY, Ga. – Continuing the conversation about the county’s future with Carters Lake, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners hosted a representative from ACCG (Association of County Commissioners in Georgia) to speak on other counties involved in the process of taking control and responsibility for lakeside recreation areas from the Corps of Engineers.
Mike O’Quinn, the ACCG’s County Consulting Services Associate in the areas of County Law, Negotiations, and Inter and Intra Governmental Relations, offered two other counties going through similar situations.
“For better or worse, the Corps seems to be getting out of the recreation business,” said O’Quinn as he was speaking on the topic of Gilmer taking over these areas. He offered a point of reassurance saying that ig Gilmer does move forward with taking over the areas, they would not be alone in these operations.
McDuffy county took over Raysville Campground from the Corps of Engineers nearly three years ago. It had been closed previously, whereas Gilmer County is looking to intervene before permanent closure. O’Quinn said that now McDuffy is looking at taking over a second campground. A county smaller than Gilmer in population, says O’Quinn.
Bartow County also took over a previously closed campground Clark Creek on Lake Allatoona. A larger county in population than Gilmer, they, too, are looking at taking over a second campground.
O’Quinn told Gilmer’s Commissioner that both of these operations have been successful in their operations of the areas as they have used county employees for operations and maintenance instead of contracted services.
O’Quinn went on to say that he has camped and visited these sites as well as Doll Mountain in Gilmer and other Corps owned sites. He added that he hasn’t noticed any differences in operations controlled by the county and those controlled by the Corps.
However, both of these counties noted have gone with full lease options for their sites. Chairman Paris and Post Commissioner Ferguson have tentatively agreed in previous meetings that they will be looking to pursue cooperative management options with Carters Lake instead of a lease. However, no official resolution has been made as they both continue to investigate the issues.
The topic has picked up in public response and attention as numerous citizens on both sides of the debate weigh in. Many have already spoken in favor of the take-over including Angela Mays who spoke about the handicap access and the ease of getting her family out to the locations. She noted how she has run into boy scouts and groups using the trails as well as low-income families who use the recreation areas, trails, beach, and other facilities as a major recreation source for their families at lower costs.
Additionally, Larry Alonso defended Carters Lake and its access as a major resource in teaching and furthering exercise in people both young and old.
On the other side, many citizens have taken to social media to voice opposing opinions including Kathy Collins who said “The Army Corps is loosing money trying to maintain them. That’s why they’re trying to pawn them off on us.”
Additionally, Sukochi Ward Lee voiced concerns of increasing costs if fees do not cover the costs that could result in increased taxes down the road.
Many others have compared the campgrounds to the County Golf Course saying that it will become another financial drain on the county to maintain. While some counter that the golf course is very nearly revenue neutral, others point to it taking nearly two decades to even get close to the point it is now.
As the county awaits the state verification of election results and the arrival of its newly elected third member, Hubert Parker according to unofficial results, the discussion is continuing towards a resolution. The county could make a decision as early as next week during its November Meetings (Work Session: November 13. 2019, at 9 a.m.. Regular Meeting: November 14, 2019, at 6 p.m.) In fact, the advertised agenda has the item listed for discussion and possible action. But this item has been listed for several months and tabled as discussion continues.
The fate of Carters Lake remains undecided. As the Board of Commissioners had the agreement tabled for discussion and to look further into the issue.
With over 50 people packed into the Commissioners Conference room, one citizen after another continued asking the Commissioners to do something to save these ramps, activities, trails, and campsites at Carters Lake.
Similar to the special called meeting, many citizens were return attendees to that meeting, however, many newcomers showed up alongside them to reiterate and state anew their desires and the county’s “need” for this areas.
Much of the statements centered around the county’s uses for the areas including tourism, local families bringing guests, an inexpensive entertainment options, and even a draw to outdoor activity and exercise.
Even Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson’s own business, Stay Active Ellijay, utilizes outdoor sites, hiking trails, and activities like these as a part of the community they build, Encouraging exercise and activities utilizing natural resources like Carters Lake.
Citizens comments continued as representatives of the Corps of Engineers and the Board of Commissioners listened. Ultimately, the Board decided not to move forward with a resolution on an agreement. However, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that they had basically understood that they would be looking at the Cooperative Management option for all four sites.
However, through the board’s own proceedings and citizens asking about costs versus benefits, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are wanting to look deeper into building an agreement.
Paris said that he didn’t want to engage in an agreement without knowing all the details of the operations. Ferguson agreed that she didn’t want to rush into anything. But instead, the county will be looking at the costs and every need the county would be filling in the agreement.
Once they have the answers they seek, the two BOC members said they would come back to formalize and sign the agreement with the Corps of Engineers.
However, there is a downside to waiting for this. With the agreement tabled, each day, reservations are made for the campgrounds and revenue is taken in. Revenue that would be the county’s if they had the agreement in place already. As it stands, without an agreement, this revenue returns to the National Government funds.
With most closures in place now being seasonal, the board’s current understanding is that it could be two more years before any sites see permanent closures unless the Corps budget changes again.
On a brighter note, the Corps stated that they were receiving a large number of volunteers seeking to help out and keep sites like Woodring Branch open through the season closure. With the volunteer surge, this is a likely possibility. However, time will tell if the volunteer numbers stay high enough through the winter to maintain this.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Next week will see the decision of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners on what to do with for sites on Carter’s Lake.
The board met today with citizen’s over the issue in a Special Called Meeting at 10 a.m. Along with them were representatives of the Corps of Engineers who are looking at closing the four public access sites on Carter’s Lake including Woodring, Ridgeway Church, Harrison Branch, and Doll Mountain.
With budget cuts in their future, the Corps of Engineers is looking at two options for Gilmer County to take more control and responsibility for Carter’s Lake, outright leasing the properties to the county or entering a cooperative management agreement.
The lease option would allow the county full control over the property to do whatever they want with it. This comes with the county receiving all funds raised through access fees and full control of that fee structure as well. The county would also take on full responsibilities for the locations leased, including costs and operations.
Cooperative Management puts more stringent restrictions on the county where they must follow the Corps of Engineers fee structure and find agreements with the Corps on operational and improvement functions. They two would split proceeds from fees as specified in the agreement they would make. While excess funds would be the county’s to use strictly for the locations on Carter’s Lake in the agreement. This would also split responsibilities for these locations as well.
Though much discussion was raised during the meeting, Chairman Charlie Paris suggested the board not take action today with the regular meeting scheduled for next week, October 16 at 6 p.m.
Though the two current commissioners discussed the option of leasing Harris Branch and entering agreements on the other three locations, next week will give rise to a final decision as they continue investigating until then.