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Park draws support
But proposed sewage treatment plant draws plenty of ire
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While Guyton City Council members may have gotten support for their idea of a park on their Riverside Drive property, the proposed wastewater treatment plant continues to draw fire and critics.

At a workshop designed to discuss city property and parks, the discussion on the city’s ideas for its more than 600 acres turned to the sewage treatment plant, much to Mayor Michael Garvin’s displeasure.

“We’re not here to talk about the wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “We want to know what citizens want to do with recreation.”

The city has proposed to build a 500,000 gallon a day wastewater treatment plant on approximately 5 acres of its 647 acres of property on Riverside Drive. Much of the rest is planned for recreational purposes. About 85 acres are expected to be used as a sprayfield.

But the plans have come under fire for more than a year.

“It’s a proven fact that you shouldn’t put a wastewater treatment plant in a 100-year flood plain and where it discharges into a blackwater creek,” said Craig Barrow.

Barrow, who owns property near the heavily-criticized tract, told city council he warned them two years ago that an economic downturn was coming soon. He also warned that the prospects for Copper Station, a South Carolina firm that sold the land to the city and owns nearly 2,400 acres in the area, to build anything in the near future are not good.

“They haven’t had one building permit on that property,” he said.

Barrow also took the city to task for how much they paid for the land. The city used $997,000 from its Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority loan to buy 265 acres from Copper Station and spent almost $2 million to buy its Riverside Drive holdings.

“The city paid way too much for it,” he said. “You paid over the appraised value. You’re stuck with it. Your first loss is your best loss. You ought to sell the property and move on.”

Alderman Ulysses Eaton said the city is up to date on its payments to GEFA for the $13.3 million.

“And the city can afford to buy it,” he said.

Garvin said the city will not sell the land.

“We intend to use it,” he said. “It was up for sale. It was on the market. Anybody could have bought it. The city has no intention to sell it. Our intention is to put a park out there.”

Eaton said putting a sewage treatment plant on the property won’t materially affect the land’s look.

“There’s a lot that has to happen,” he said.

Garvin said the city is looking at a variety of uses for the Copper Station tract, including nature trails, fishing, camping, establishing a boardwalk and perhaps even making some of it available for hunting.

Eaton said the city has explored what it would take to allow city residents to hunt on that property but added it is doubtful that could happen before hunting season gets under way.

Treatment plant still a hot topic

But there are still many concerns from nearby property owners and residents about the city’s plans — and how it intends to pay for it.

“The obvious question is why does Guyton have all this land still?” asked Wade McDonald. “How many houses have been built in 2009?”

McDonald also took issue with the proposed park on Riverside Drive being so far from the center of the city. The land was annexed into Guyton.

“It seems Guyton residents would be benefit from parks in Guyton, not six, seven, eight miles away,” he said.

There also were concerns about the security for the land. Because it is city property, the Guyton Police Department will patrol, Chief Randy Alexander said.

But worries over behavior at other nearby recreational spots also weighed heavily on the minds of those at the workshop.

“I’ve been coming up here 28 years and many, many, many times I’ve been warned, ‘don’t go down to Steel Bridge, that’s a dangerous area,’” Barrow said.

Barrow, who owns land on the Ogeechee River, said such behavior is likely to make its way down the river to the proposed park. Alexander said he has 15 officers, three of them full-time, at his disposal, and the state Department of Natural Resources also patrols the area.

“I know some people won’t go to Steel Bridge,” Alexander said. “We want this to be better than Steel Bridge. I want something for everyone to enjoy.

“That property is beautiful,” Alexander said. “I was amazed.”

Barrow called on the city to invite members of the Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeepers, the Sierra Club and other related entities, including the University of Georgia’s College of Environmental Science, to take part in planning a park for the Riverside Drive land.

“The watershed in the Ogeechee River is everybody’s priority,” he said. “You need a group to guide you and give you the best possible use of that park and the best possible protection. Because if you don’t, you’re going up against a dynamite situation.”

Barrow added the state is closing parks because it can’t afford to maintain them. Any damage done to the river could fall on the city to remedy, he cautioned.

“It’s a natural resource that is extra important to this county and everything south of here,” Barrow said.

McDonald also urged the city to concentrate its resources on the parks now within the city limits.

Barrow said the city’s intentions on turning its land on Riverside Drive into recreation uses are “as good as gold,” but the city needs a vision that everyone can buy into and a mission that it will stick to over the years.

And he reiterated his stance against the wastewater treatment plant.

“If you want it to be successful, you’re going to have to surrender the wastewater treatment plant,” Barrow said. “I’m not going to stop until I stop you.”