Public hearing set for boat ramp project

Published 9:26 am Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Crenshaw County Commission approved a second-level application for a potential boat ramp to the Patsaliga River over Highway 106.

The county made its original application in May for the Land and Water Conservation Grant, and several citizens who have property near the site attended the June 11 Commission meeting to express concerns about the project.

Since the project has moved to the second stage of the application process, the Commission has set a time for a public hearing before the next meeting.

That public hearing will be held on July 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the courthouse.

County engineer Benjie Sanders told the Commission about a number of letters of approval that would have to be obtained during the application process.

“We’ve got to have a letter from the Corps of Engineers, the Historical Commission and the Department of Fishing and Wildlife,” he said.

Sanders said that both the boat ramp project and the Petrey bridge replacement project could be affected by a declaration from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“There are five species of mussels that they’re anticipating will be added to the endangered list this fall,” Sanders said.

Several of those species are found in the Patsaliga watershed, and a study could be held to determine if the mussels are present at the potential boat ramp and Petrey sites.

“To find out if they’re there, we would have to conduct a survey at our expense,” said Sanders, who added that the cost of such a survey would be around $6,700.

Sanders made the point that $6,700 is a small amount in the Petrey project, which will total nearly $3 million, but it’s more significant in a boat ramp project where the total grant amount is only $11,000.

A project totally funded by the county wouldn’t require a letter of approval from the Department of Fishing and Wildlife.

“At that point, if they raise the same issue and we have to spend $6,000 or $7,000, we could just get out of the project,” Sanders said. “It would be better to do it ourselves.”

Commissioner Merrill Sport asked if there was another possible location for the boat ramp that wouldn’t have any potential obstacles, but Sanders said that the application is site-specific.

“We couldn’t switch sites at this point in the application,” he said.

In other business, the Commission discussed borrowing between $2 million and $3 million to fund the county’s match to state road and bridge grants.

Walter Lewis, an investment banker with Gardnyr Michael Capital, Inc. of Birmingham, was present at last month’s meeting to show a number of different options.

“The best way for us to do it is to one-time borrow as much as we can,” said Commissioner Charlie Sankey, who cited the low interest rate of two percent as a key factor.

Sankey said that even if the county didn’t receive the expected state projects and borrowed more money than was needed, the extra money could be used for other projects or even just to pay off the debt.

“We need to borrow as much as we can at two percent and anticipate that we’ll get funded down the road,” he said. “If we don’t get funded, let Benjie come back and strategically talk about what other projects we’re going to do.”

“We’re never going to get this money again at 2.1 percent,” Sankey added. “It’s tough to know what to do because we’ve never had such a good situation before.”

The County Commission also continued discussion about software for the Sheriff’s Department.

Johnny Brunson, who had proposed a licensing and maintenance fee of $3,000 per month to use his software for the Sheriff’s Department, removed his software last month after the Commission didn’t take any action on the proposal.

Since then, Sheriff Charles West has consulted with two firms, Southern Software and HDI, to look at purchasing their software for the department.

“If Mr. Brunson wants to sell us software that is ours and not his, he needs to present to us like other companies have,” said Sankey.

Sankey also said that he would like to have assurance that Brunson has someone to maintain his software “if he’s not around” or after West leaves office.

In the meantime, County Attorney Levi Nichols expressed concern about easily accessing records left behind after the removal of Brunson’s software.

“We’ve got to try a capital murder case,” Nichols said. “How are we going to run local warrants on people that may serve on the jury?”

Commissioner Merrill Sport said he felt like the Commission was being blackmailed by the removal of the software.

“I don’t appreciate you calling him a blackmailer,” West said. “There’s a chance you might be able to negotiate with him, even now.  But you’ve said from day one that you wouldn’t give him a nickel.”

Several members of the Commission expressed an interest in arriving at a long-term solution to the problem, not just a temporary one.

The Commission also brought in Stewart Thomas, a local software consultant, to look at the data files and determine how easily a network and database solution could be set up.

“If it was as easy as you say it is, all these other counties would be doing the same thing,” West said.

No action was taken on the matter.