At its regular June meeting on Thursday night, the Dade County Commission took preliminary steps toward a $500,000 purchase of land along Lookout Creek, with the view to building a dam and reservoir that could be used for recreational as well as water supply purposes.
The commissioners approved $50,000 for an option on the land, which the county attorney, Robin Rogers, said totaled 65 acres more or less, though he specified the survey is not yet complete. They also put on their consent agenda an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) among the county commission, the Trenton City Commission and the Dade Water Authority. Those three bodies would share the cost of, then co-own and co-manage the proposed reservoir.
The land is owned by Jack Sells Jr., and Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley said it’s a parcel the Water Authority has had its eye on for years, that Sells was previously uninterested in parting with.
Rumley said that though Lookout Creek is a plentiful source of local drinking water, reservoirs are increasingly important in rural communities like Dade. He said if last year’s drought had gone on much longer, firefighting helicopters would have been hard put to find bodies of water where they could fill up their tanks to dump on the wildfires that swept Dade. “People were almost shooting the helicopters,” he said.
He said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was pushing reservoir-building in rural counties. “That’s a lot of stuff going on with water purity,” he said.
And he stressed that a reservoir would have recreational as well as practical purposes. “It would be a great thing for Dade County,” he said.
He got no argument from the other four commissioners, who approved the IGA and $50,000 option allotment without much discussion.
But at a meeting that was also marked by a great deal of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth of the financial variety--County Clerk Don Townsend said the property tax base shrinks every year, and sales tax collections have shrunk to 2003 levels--the obvious concern was: Does the county have that kind of money?
Asked that question later, Commissioner Rumley said not to worry, 99 percent of it would come from grants. “There’s a lot of money out there,” he said.
Questioned further about the land itself, Rumley said the 65-acre tract the three governmental proposes to buy from Jack Sells adjoins the land Dade County already owns along Lookout Creek off Sells Lane, which he said amounted to about an acre.
Residents who use that area recreationally will recognize it as an unmaintained area with the ruins of picnic tables amid piles of trash. “Every time we put a picnic table there, somebody would steal it,” said Rumley.
If the county lacks the resources to maintain one acre and a few picnic tables along the creek, can it manage 65 acres, a dam and a reservoir?
“If you have one, you have to,” answered Rumley. "This isn't a small pond, it's a big lake."