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DNR apparently pushing marina
Cattle Hammock
This property along Cattle Hammock Road is the subject of persistent rumors that officials have targeted it for purchase to put a new marina in east Liberty County. - photo by Joe Parker Jr. / Coastal Courier
While continuing to ignore public questions, county officials have met with a team of DNR fishing and boating staff who advised "it's now or never" if Liberty wants to buy land for citizens' access to water.
Spud Woodward, assistant director for marine fisheries for the Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division who supervises the Constituent Services Program, supervisor John Pafford and biologist Shawn Jordan, met with County Commission Chairman John McIver and County Administrator Joey Brown Tuesday. CSP is responsible for boating and fishing access projects.
Pafford said the entire Southeast is rapidly losing public access to water and that the planned closure of the Yellow Bluff marina "elevates what was a concern to a crisis for Liberty County."
Local citizens continue to hear rumors that Liberty County plans to buy land for a marina across Cattle Hammock Road from the Bermuda Bluff development. Some neighbors say they would oppose this and appeared at a Liberty County Citizens Advisory Committee and county commission meetings to voice their objections.
The CAC passed questions along to the commission where there was no public discussion and McIver said no official decision had been made.
A number of citizens continue to insist a deal has been made, a price set, documents signed and earnest money paid by the county to the Jones, Osteen and Jones law firm on behalf of the land's owners.
The commissioners have taken no vote to purchase the land, nor have they voted to authorize McIver and Brown to negotiate for land.
State laws, which generally make all government business open to the public, include an exemption for real estate negotiations.
Woodward said the Coastal Resources Division would "leave no stone unturned" in its effort to counteract the public's shrinking access to water. He pointed to the refurbished boat ramp on Riceboro Creek as one example of a DNR project, which he said are usually limited by lack of funding.
A 15 percent portion of a federal excise tax is dedicated to boating access, which Woodward said usually pays for one boat ramp a year, and possibly a fishing pier.
The appropriation of $1.35 million from the General Assembly may make some larger projects possible.
The DNR team said that possible locations for potential marinas or boat ramps are not common because of the need for proper water and bank conditions and the need for space or parking.
A facility with a lift is preferable, they said, because many people simply prefer lifts or are unable to launch their boats from ramps. Larger boats are unable to use ramps and require lifts.
Marina locations are easier to find, Pafford said, "They are not so restricted as to site."
The length of the rail can extend across a strip of marsh or mudbank to reach the water.
Boat ramps require sufficient water depth right up to the shore.
"No boat ramp is permanent," Woodward said, "With lots of maintenance, we may keep them in use for 10 or 20 years, but it's a losing battle."
The tremendous, and increasing, price of coastal property is also an obstacle to water access.
"It's not going to get any cheaper, Woodward said, reiterating the 'now or never' requirement for action.
The DNR officials said local governments can take innovative action, pointing out that one marina was operated by a government entity and another one was a public-private partnership.
"It's a local decision," Woodward said, "We stand ready to help with technical advice, cash and design assistance. Part of our role is to educate, inform and advocate."
Jordan unrolled an aerial photograph of coastal Liberty County and detailed a highly specific knowledge of all potential locations for additional water access. Most sites were ruled out because owners were unwilling to sell, insufficient land was available or water and tidal conditions were unsuitable.
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