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County moves forward with grant application

More than 40 people turned out Monday night for a public hearing concerning a proposed boat ramp to the Patsaliga River, and the Commission voted to continue its application process for grant money for the project.

The boat ramp would be constructed by the bridge on Highway 106 over the Patsaliga.

By a show of hands, most of the people at the public hearing were in favor of the boat ramp, but petitions for both sides have been circulating around the county.

Billy King said that some of the landowners near the proposed ramp had asked him to speak on their behalf.

“First off, the purpose of a boat ramp is to put a boat in the river.  If there’s a boat in the river, it should be able to go somewhere,” King said.

King said that four men from Greenville left from the site on a recent Friday morning and planned to boat down the river to Hazlett Bridge in Covington County, a distance of eight miles.

King said they arrived on Sunday afternoon and “did more walking than paddling” because the water level was so low.

“I don’t think you’ll have enough boat travel to justify this,” he said.

King also noted that the state recommended that the bridge be replaced in its 2009 inspection.

Mark Kelley said he owns land on the opposite side of the road, which is accessible by a “very narrow entranceway,” and he was concerned about parking.

“What about people blocking me out of my gate?” he asked.

Several other people spoke in favor of the boat ramp.

Wilbert Bolding said that the river is usually down during the summer, but despite that, people should have access to it.

“I’m 70 years old, and it’s tough for me to slide down the bank,” he said. “We should have access to public water.  I love to fish – that’s about all I’ve got left.”

Blake Taylor said he feels like people that are concerned about the steep slope of the proposed ramp have never been on the Patsaliga before.

“You’re not going to be putting a big enough boat in the water to pull a truck in because of the slope,” said Taylor, who added that if he could get a boat in the river, he would be willing to help clear the waterway of fallen trees and debris as he had done in the past.

He also commented on concerns of the location becoming a party spot.

“They’re building a boat ramp, not a bar,” he said. “They can party without a boat ramp.”

In the regular meeting, the Commission voted to move ahead with the next phase of the grant application, the deadline for which is Friday at noon.

“It’s still an application, and there’s no guarantee it’ll get funded,” said county engineer Benjie Sanders. “We did the pre-application, and now we’re at the second level.  It’s not a done deal at this point.  Even if we got funded, we still have to get clearances.”

Commissioner Michelle Stephens represents the district where the proposed ramp is located, and she said that the majority of the people that had contacted her were in favor of the project and moving ahead with the grant application.

“I’m asking you to vote with me on this,” she said to the other commissioners.

“If she feels that strongly about the support, it’s tough for us to turn down free money for the citizens,” said Commissioner Merrill Sport. “I’ll vote for it out of professional respect for a fellow commissioner. It’s her little red wagon.”

The vote to move ahead with the next stage of the application passed 4-0.  Commissioner Charlie Sankey was absent from the meeting.

In other business, the Commission received financial information from E-911 director Scott Stricklin.

The Commission requested the information so that it could be looked at while the county begins work on the budget for the next fiscal year.

The Commission tabled the matter and wished to wait until Sankey was in attendance.

No action was taken on the matter of software for the Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Charles West said that Johnny Brunson agreed to sell his software to the county after 20 payments of $3,000 per month.

The Commission is considering Brunson’s proposal, as well as proposals from Southern Software and Stewart Thomas.

“I’d appreciate if you’d do something and do it quick,” West said. “You’re not any closer right now than you were [months ago].”

The Commission will holding a special meeting on Thursday morning, July 26, at 9 a.m. to allow Bob Young to make a bond financing presentation for consideration on the county’s ATRIP bridge match.

Further discussions on the ADECA boat ramp grant may also be held.