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Board opts out of swap
Land would be used for parks
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Dawson County commissioners have decided to opt out of a land swap agreement intended for future recreational growth.

At issue in the 3-1 decision Thursday was the proposed exchange of 50 acres on Dawson Forest Road, valued at $290,000, for 33.5 acres on Bannister, worth an estimated $100,000 less, but located next to Rock Creek Park.

Engineers have previously said the swap would be comparable due to the potential higher costs associated with developing the 50-acre tract for additional soccer fields.

Discussions began last summer, when the Etowah Water & Sewer Authority's board agreed to the exchange with Jackie and Jerry Townley, who own the Bannister tract.

The authority then planned to give the Townley property to the county for recreational purposes.

The Dawson Forest Road property is part of an agreement that dates to the late 1990s and involves the county paying interest on a loan the authority obtained for land to build a water reclamation facility and spray fields.

"The appraisal of the $290,000, that's an appraisal," said District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix. "It being next to the 10,000 acres [in the forest] to me makes it more valuable than what that number there is saying."

Commissioner James Swafford was the lone vote in favor of the land exchange.

"It's been pointed out the county does not own the land," he said. "The county pays interest on that debt on that property that part of this board had nothing to do with. But we pay about $3,700 a month interest on the debt.

"If [Etowah Water and Sewer Authority] is willing to donate that ... then we would be getting something for the taxpayers' dollars."

Commission Chair Mike Berg said he saw the swap as a positive step for the county.

The chairman, who only votes in the event of a tie, addressed the commission before the vote, encouraging his colleagues to see the good that could come from the land swap.

"This property ... would fit some of the needs that we have for recreation in the future," he said. "The big thing that I want everybody to realize is this isn't our property. This is Etowah's property. What we get is a 33-acre asset that we don't have and wouldn't have in the future.

"We're not paying any money for property and we are gaining an asset the Etowah board has said they will let go."

According to County Manager Cindy Campbell, County Engineer Corey Gutherie compared the two tracts to determine the cost to clear the land, grade for erosion control and cut access roads, among other factors.

The costs to develop the 33.5-acre Townley tract for recreation would be significantly less due to its topography, she said.