CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

November 4, 2012

Opposition rises against county schools’ Sec. 16 proposal

By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

— With the vote just a few days away, the Cullman County Board of Education’s push to acquire control of some valuable property on Smith Lake has received some push back from at least one resident in the area.

Peggy Hill, a resident who lives near the Smith Lake property affected by the local Amendment 1 Section 16 vote, hopes locals will take note of the natural beauty that would be lost if the property is ever developed. The local Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee (SLEPC) has also taken up the cause, passing a resolution at a Saturday meeting in opposition of local Amendment 1.

The land, a 435-acre tract on the lake, is currently under the stewardship of the Alabama Department of Conservation. The local school system is seeking control of the property, which was set aside by federal ordinance for school use, with hopes to develop or sell the land and use 90 percent of the revenue to start a trust to fund the school system in the future.

Currently the revenue from timber sales or property leases on Section 16 land across Alabama is placed in an account and divvied out to school systems statewide. By developing the Smith Lake property, education officials hope to take advantage of the fact that this tract is likely worth much more if it is developed or sold.

Hill said she opposed the amendment because she does not want to see the property changed or eventually destroyed.

“This is the most spectacular property you’ll ever see, it’s just majestic,” she said. “It’s stunning, the fact that we could consider selling this property makes me so upset. This property needs to be preserved. If this passes, this has the word ‘sell’ in it. Once you give them the ability, they’ll sell it.”

Though the school board has pledged to place 90 percent of any potential revenue in a trust to accrue interest for future use, and create a steering committee to assist with planning, Hill said she believes politics would eventually find the money wasted.

“They’re talking about golf courses and stores, and once you sell it you have that pot of money,” she said. “But do you think politicians are going to never change that, and not spend this all at some point? It’s upsetting to think we could lose this. It was set aside for the students’ benefits, and how could a golf course or shopping center be for their benefit? It’d just be squandered.”

Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Billy Coleman said he respects that fact that some residents in the area may have reservations, but he still believes the vote is in the best interest of local students.

“We certainly understand there are people who live near those properties, and I’m sure they have concerns bout what’s going to eventually happen to those properties, and we are aware of that and respect that,” he said. “But it comes back to the fact that this was set aside for schools, and we’re going to use it for the benefit of our school system.”

A representative with the SLEPC was unavailable for comment by deadline of this article.



Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.