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County may clamp down on off-road park

Special to SEGAZINE

Brantley County may soon be looking at ways to recoup losses, fix traffic problems and better enforce the law governing major county events after an agenda item regarding East Coast Off-Road Park brought up by commissioner Mike Edgy at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the board of commissioners.

And agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms may be part of the solution.

Edgy referred to a recent event at the park known as Trucks Gone Wild that regularly brings in massive crowds to the county and has brought some in the community to complain of various issues that follow.

Edgy said that he had no issue with the business bringing in the crowds even of that size, but massive traffic blockage, noise issues and alcohol were each items that the county should address as well as the cost the county incurs trying to fix each of them.

Edgy said that alcohol was one of his biggest concerns about the event, which doesn’t sell or condone alcohol but tends to attract the use of alcoholic beverage nonetheless.  Among the options the county has, Edgy said, is to contact the ATF who had already spoken with the previous chairman about sending undercover agents to the area to help keep a lid on illegal consumption of alcohol during the time of the event.

Meanwhile, traffic was also backed up from the location of the event off of Highway 32 to the four way stop in the middle of Hortense causing several issues with motorists who may have just been passing through.

Edgy said local law enforcement did the best they could to direct large portions of the traffic but that the area was inundated with vehicles.  Edgy suggested that the county find ways to help increase the flow of traffic such as redirecting traffic through Ballfield Road to help keep the main highways clear.  Edgy also suggested finding ways to have the event organizers help pay overtime for officers who were required to direct traffic for the event.  Edgy said that the event actually brought in over 6,000 participants this year paying anywhere from $25 and $55 dollars to enter the park. Edgy said the organizers could use some of that money to help the county pay off some of the costs associated with traffic and general upkeep after the event.

911 Director Linda Murrell attended the meeting and confirmed that the 911 center does receive a significantly more calls during that major event at the park.

Quoting approximate numbers, the 911 center’s average emergency calls for the three day weekend period went from about 50 to 100 for that weekend and from about 110 to 231 for non-emergency calls.

There were also about six ATV wrecks during the event compared to two on a regular weekend, seven EMS calls compared to none on a regular weekend and about 54 traffic stops compared to 16 regularly.  DUI calls also went from about one a weekend to approximately two.

However, only a handful were noise calls, she said, with 10 noise complaints – seven of which were actually called on a resident in the area who was apparently using a train horn to protest noise at the park.  As it turns out, the loud horn annoyed neighbors more than the park itself.

Murrell said that this year’s event was much larger than previous iterations and that this likely caused an increase in each of these areas that the park owners weren’t expecting.

Murrell also said that the park itself was staffed with off-duty officers from surrounding counties as security and that there were signs throughout the park prohibiting alcohol.

However, she did point out that one of the more serious accidents – that the Enterprise had previously learned involved a life flight – involved an 18 year old who had wrecked into a drink while under the influence of alcohol.

Commissioners tasked the county manager with looking into a more robust ordinance to reign in some of the issues and look into event permitting that may recoup some of the costs.

Manager Carl Rowland said that he plans to confer with other counties about their ordinance and come back with a proposal by the June meeting if not by Thursday.

Meanwhile the airport authority’s latest project may have “put the ox before the cart” in the words of some commissioners when it opened bids, approved the low bidder and held a pre-construction hearing over the last year without first bringing the item to the attention of the board of commissioners.

A lengthly discussion inferred that the main problems occurred over a year ago when the bids were first accepted and that this should have been brought to the commission table in a step-by-step process rather than having the authority handle all the items and come to the county for the final confirmation.

But discussion also brought forth that the airport authority’s actual powers may not be as far-reaching as members had previously thought.

Both the attorney and county manager agreed that the airport authority did not have the power to enter into this contract on its own in large part due to the fact the majority of the contract refers to the county as the land owner. This made the county the final decision maker on this project.

The discrepancy, a lack of communication and the need for more funds to be transferred from the general fund are major reasons why Edgy said he backed the recent decision to request from the legislature that the authority be downgraded to an advisory board to the commission.

However, county attorney C. Deen Strickland said that many of the issues stemmed from year-old problems and that communication has improved.  Strickland also said that current authority chairman Billy Lee’s knowledge of the projects have played a major role in helping the county through some of the legal issues that arose before he became chairman.

However, Edgy also said that the authority going through with two phases of the project despite commissioners demanding it be put on hold previously also frustrated him.

However, the county manager pointed out that he had been kept in the loop on the authority’s actions since he took office.

The budget amendment for more money, contract approval and bid approval were placed on the regular agenda and, if approved, will allow the low bidder J. Hyers to begin the project this month and complete the project within a month.  The county will only pay a small portion of the total bill with a majority of the money coming from the Federal Aviation Administration and another portion coming from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

 

In other business, the commission:

•  Struck two items regarding appointments to the Tax Assessors Board and the Development Authority from the agenda following discussion between Commissioner Edgy and Chairman Summerlin regarding whether the items should be ran in the media first.  Summerlin said that he had discussed the item with other commissioners and Edgy and thought they had already come to an agreement.  Edgy said they should be advertised first.

•  Placed the transfer of cable franchise from James Cable to BCI on the regular agenda.

•  Placed a National EMS Week proclamation on the regular agenda.

•  Placed an agreement between the city of Nahunta and the county regarding billing and collection of ad valorem taxes on behalf of the city.  The contract remains the same as the previous iteration and runs through 2016.

•  Listened to an update from the county attorney regarding the school bus stop arm camera program that the county may enter with the cities and school system. Strickland said that there were still some legal issues and questions he would like to work out with the company in various parts of the contract before the board consider it for approval.

•  Placed an ante-litem notice regarding a Rachel Mitchell on the regular agenda.

•  Placed two tax payers with unusual circumstances regarding interest and penalties on the regular agenda to have portions of their tax bill forgiven because of clerical issues.

•  Placed discussion of the GDOT speed limit ordinance on the regular agenda to examine possible changes the commission would like to make.  Suggestions thus far range from  having all of Central Avenue limited to 45 miles per hour as per the county attorney’s request to having all county maintained roads lowered to 45 miles per hour per chairman Charlie Summerlin.

•  Listened to a report from the county manager who said that the county road department was in full force repairing issues from recent downpours and that other road repairs would recommence once they were complete.  Ongoing work at the county landfill is also going smoothly he said.

 

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