CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Opinion

October 14, 2010

No choice but to fight Duck Creek

CULLMAN — If you think this is about water, rethink Duck Creek. The number one industry in Cullman County is agriculture. Cullman County is the number one agricultural producer in the State of Alabama with excess of $450 million dollars in annual production. The Duck Creek Water Shed encompasses 36.5 square miles or 23,347 acres, (it courses all the way north to Morgan County). Eighty percent of the water shed is in production agriculture — poultry, row crops, cattle, and forestry. There are 227 farm families and approximately 150 poultry houses in the watershed. The annual agriculture production in the water shed is over $40 million. Farmers are very few in number, nationwide comprising less than 2 percent of the population. We need your help. In the future; the proposed Duck Creek Dam Project will be devastating to production agriculture.

Saturday, April 10, 2010, a meeting was held at the Holly Pond Methodist Church for farmers in the Duck Creek water shed and concerned citizens throughout Cullman County. I applaud the city officials and Cullman Utility Board members who took time to come. A few politicians and candidates also attended the meeting. However, there were city, county officials, as well as state legislators, who could not or would not attend. Tim Scott, from the Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District, has been involved with the Cullman Utilities Board from the very beginning in preparations for this project. He did an excellent job reviewing all existing regulations/restrictions on agriculture, (with the Clean Water Act, EPA, and ADEM). He then outlined additional regulations that would be in place on farms in the watershed. The additional restrictions would be governed by the “Water Management Authority,” (henceforth referred to as the WMA). The WMA would hire a full-time inspector whose sole responsibility would be to enforce these restrictions. An example of these restrictions would be that every CAFO (contained animal feed operation) and AFO (animal feed operation) would have to be inspected at least once per year and would be subject to random inspections at all times. The frightening thing is that the WMA would have the undisputable power to change their regulations at any time in the future. I asked all of the officials at the meeting, were there any guarantees that the WMA’s future restrictions would not become unbearable and put farmers out of business? They all hung their heads down and said, “No,” they could not make any guarantees that this project would not harm agriculture.

At the Holly Pond meeting, you had concerned individuals who would have to sale their land for this project. My homwplace, the John A. Lovelady estate, listed on the Alabama Register of Historic Farms, located on 278 East, has been a victim of eminent domain on three occasions; twice by the TVA and once by the Federal Highway system. Getting a “fair market value” for land deemed seizable by Eminent Domain is a cruel joke. When Highway 278 East was widened to four lanes, we haggled for two years, while the bulldozers and road graders were already rolling, and finally were paid approximately 70 percent of the appraised value for our land. You will fight for every penny — but if you fight too hard, your land will be seized and you will be compensated little to nothing. Familiarize yourselves with what happened to the Irving Messersmith farm on Golf Course Road. Once the bulldozers start digging, you landowners cannot stop this project. You better be certain as to what land you will be forced to sale and what control, if any, you will have of  any waterfront property you may still own.

This project will be detrimental to agriculture and landowners in watershed - so what is this really all about?

Number one, this is about the city continuing to try to monopolize the sale of water to the county. They maintain they sale water “at cost” which is over $2 dollars/1,000 gallons. And yet, the VAW Water system buys some of its water from Lawrence County for about one-half that amount — a nice steady source of income for the city, wouldn’t you say? We have witnessed the extraordinary, unbending attempt by the city, Utilities Board, and politicians to prevent any consideration by any involved entity, to consider any water solution other than the Duck Creek Reservoir. They have suppressed any attempts at competition or innovation. I say that probably violates some anti-trust laws.

Number two, this is about high end development around the proposed reservoir. “Follow the money, follow the money!” Go to www.cullmanrevernuecommissioner.com, then link to Cullman GIS & Mapping, and proceed to Appraisal & Tax Information. Then point and click up the Duck Creek, interactively. There are tracts of land that have been in families for decades/generations. But there are tracts that have been bought in recent years by land developers. According to Dale Greer, the city will be buying up at least 1,000 acres, of which 640 acres will be the actual lake. Around the Cullman County Courthouse, the word is the city is pursuing a Robert Trent Jones Golf Course and a hotel/conference center. So now let’s connect the all the dots: The city will own an easement, to run the water pipe, all the way to the Duck Creek Reservoir area. (In the future, this easement would allow them to annex any land that touches it. This is called the “lasso effect.”). Also, the entire reservoir area will be in the city limits and, according to their website, they will have complete control of the facilities and the water. What if the city of Cullman goes “wet” on Nov. 2 or in the future? Oh Boy! Sad but true — we will have alcohol sales at the backdoor of communities/towns like Walter, Oak Level, Berlin, Center Point, New Hope, Holly Pond, and Fairview. And who will bear the brunt of the estimated cost of at least $65,000,000 to complete this grand venture — you the water customer will, who else?

Number three, this is about politicians who have jumped on this issue. What they fail to tell you in the early 1990s, the Cullman Commission, under Chairman Pete Tucker, reassigned the County’s assets when it gave our ownership of the old Cullman Medical Center, to a new board they created called the Cullman Healthcare Authority. The difference is that then action was taken to get the control of the hospital out of the hands of county citizens. Commissioners Williams and Willingham created the SCCD/GUSC to put control of water into the hands of the customers/citizens. This water system will have a board, answerable to its customers, just like every other water system in the county. It appears to me, that little by little, the Supreme Court of Alabama is upholding the legality of the SCCD/GUSC. The city is dead set on the Duck Creek Dam Project, irregardless of the impact on farmers, landowners, or communities.  The SCCD has pledge to pursue what is best for all of the citizens of Cullman County.

We all agree that we need an alternate source of water. For a community the size of Cullman County to be solely dependent on Lake Catoma or one water treatment plant is dangerous and irresponsible. We need to consider all possibilities. We also need a spirit of cooperation between all the water systems in the county and the systems of adjoining counties in order to respond to this basic need of our region. It cannot be about city versus county. It must be about basic fairness, concern, respect, cooperation, and earned trust between all of us.

If you are concerned about the negative ramifications of the proposed Duck Creek Dam and Reservoir, please let us know and help us anyway that you are able. Beginning Sunday, Oct. 17, you may go to our website: www.saveduckcreekfarms.com to read and understand more about the issues surrounding the Duck Creek Watershed. But at the least, be open-minded and reconsider this proposed source of water for the citizens of Cullman County. The farm families in the Duck Creek Watershed are backed up against the wall — we have no choice but to fight this and we will.

‰ Lydia Lovelady Haynes is a resident of Cullman County involved in the farming industry.

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