By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
With a state amendment that could give the Cullman County Board of Education control of some potentially valuable land on Smith Lake, two local economic groups have come out in favor of the measure.
Both the Cullman County Industrial Development Authority and the Industrial Development Board of the City of Cullman have passed resolutions in support of local Amendment 1, which decides the fate of three tracts of property currently under the stewardship of the state conservation department.
The land was set aside by federal law in 1785 for “school use.” Cullman County school officials are making a push for control of the land because they believe a large section on Smith Lake could potentially be sold or developed to fund a trust that would serve as a new funding source for the system.
Almost all Section 16 land across Alabama is under the control of the state, with revenues from timber clearing and leasing put toward a fund that is divvied to all applicable systems.
Affected property includes 321 acres in Joppa, 122 acres in Chigger Ridge and 435 extremely valuable acres on Smith Lake — which includes 25,000 feet of shoreline that could be worth several million dollars.
The county industrial development authority cited the educational benefits of supporting the school system financially in its statement of support.
“The Industrial Development Board recognizes that education is the number one building block for our children’s future and increasing jobs and prosperity among all the citizens of Cullman County,” chairman Jason Grimmett wrote. “Your vote for this amendment will ensure that Cullman County remains prosperous in providing highly skilled individuals and members of the work force for future industry. One of the main factors in Cullman’s success and quality of life has been education and our ability to draw quality industries because of it.”
The city industrial board cited similar merits for the amendment to pass, but also pointed out the property should legally be under the control of the school system regardless.
“These 425 acres of Smith Lake were set aside for school use more than a century ago, but control of this property remains at the state level,” chairman Dennis Richard said. “The passage of this amendment will authorize the CCBOE to manage, sell lease and control this property. Any profits from timber or development will then benefit the local county school system. The CCBOE already ‘owns’ the property; you simply want to be able to control what it is used for and reap any profits.”
Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Billy Coleman said he was grateful for the support, and is hopeful voters will pass the measure in today’s election.
“We appreciate very much the endorsements from all the organizations we spoke to, especially the industrial development boards,” he said. “We feel very appreciative to them and feel the potential for Section 16 benefits not just the school system, but the entire county.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.