By LYDIA BERGLAR
As reported in the Oct. 12 and Oct. 19 editions of the Sentinel, Jack Sells has threatened to sue Dade County regarding 61 acres of land which he sold to the county.
County Executive Ted Rumley informed the Sentinel that Sells has now verbally noted that he is dropping the lawsuit. According to Rumley, he was contacted personally by Sells at the end of October, but Sells’ attorneys have not officially noted that charges are dropped.
“Jack said that he had misunderstood some things and was dropping the charges,” Rumley told the Sentinel. “He had thought the water company was going to sell the land and houses would be developed.”
At the time of publication, the Sentinel has reached out to but not heard back from Sells’ lawyer, David N. Lockhart of Bradford and Lockhart Attorney At Law.
Commissioner Robert Goff (District 3) reported, “We’re having our attorney contact his attorneys to get a letter of clarification that it’s not being pursued any further. The lawsuit was filed, but it was not put on a docket in a court anywhere.”
The $500,000 sale took place in June 2017, and the land fell under the oversight of Dade County Water and Sewer Authority. On July 7, 2022, The county commissioners then voted to take over the property because the Water & Sewer Authority found that reservoir project expenses exceeded funding and that other difficulties might arise.
As the pre-lawsuit read (reported in the Oct. 19 edition of the Sentinel), on July 7, 2022, “By a 3-2 vote, the Commission voted to take over the loan, which the Water Authority had obtained from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to complete the original purchase of the property. Dade County would thereby assume the remaining indebtedness on the property, believed to be approximately $338,932.00 and would also assume ownership of the property.”
The purchase of the land is an attempt to begin addressing future water supply issues, but it will likely be over five years before a reservoir is built. “It might not be while I’m here. It could take five to ten years to build. We’re getting an estimate on the permitting to do the reservoir, and just getting the permit can take two years.”
The current administration hopes to get much of the leg work done so that leaders in the future have an easier path forward. One major step was buying the land which had not been available for purchase until recently. Goff reported, “The county’s been trying to purchase the land since the 70s. We’re running out of green space; everybody is.”
Goff noted that projects such as this require a large amount of information gathering, asking many questions, and making careful decisions. “We talked about this for months and months to ask all of the questions.”
According to Rumley, “Our only source of water is Lookout Creek, so we have to take care of it. We have no control over the Alabama part of Lookout Creek, and that’s where it starts. They’re drafting water out of the creek [in Alabama].”
Rumley recognizes that we often take water for granted, but water supply has become a worldwide issue, saying, “Water is something you take for granted until you turn your spigot on and nothing comes out. It’s happening all over the world, and it may not happen in our lifetime, but we need to take care of what we have.”
Rumley noted that the state has a reservoir account to promote the building of reservoirs, especially in rural areas. Goff also reported, “I have spoken with a grant writer. There’s a lot out there we need to look into that would help us financially.”
Rumley reported that Stantec, an engineering consultant firm, has looked at the land to assess it, and archeologists have assessed the area for historical significance.
According to Stantec’s website, they have expertise in buildings, transportation, energy, mining, water, and more. The water section of their website states, “We partner with our clients to design solutions that address their communities’ unique needs throughout the water infrastructure lifecycle. Our One Water focus covers the management of fresh water, wastewater, stormwater, and groundwater as a collective resource.”
Rumley said, “We had archeologists come in to do a walk through. There’s not anything historically significant that would be disrupted. Sitton’s mill was a big operation, and the county has owned that for a while. We’ll have some historical markers put there.”
Rumley noted that the Department of Natural Resources is helping to oversee the land. “The game warden and Department of Natural Resources is patrolling there now.”
Even before a reservoir is built, Rumley and Goff believe that the land can be utilized well by our community. Rumley said, “We’ve cleaned it up, bush hogged it, put in a gate. The schools could have field trips there.” He noted that they plan to fix up the parking area where about ten cars should be able to park.
The land is open for the public to explore. Goff added, “You can fish, you can push kayaks in. The gate is not locked. It’s closed with a chain hooked on. We don’t have any hours posted yet. We encourage you to go down and see it.”