It won’t be a fait accompli until county commissioners officially throw in the towel, but initial reactions to last week’s ruling against the county on the years-long litigation over the fate of Bethel Park suggest that maybe this particular fight is done.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier federal judge’s ruling denying the county’s request for an injunction to stop the YMCA from developing a summer youth camp at the park.
The story is a long one often told. The Corps of Engineers closed Bethel Park on Lake Lanier years ago. In 2003, it reached an agreement with the YMCA to allow the development of a summer camp. Some area residents opposed the plan, the county government became involved and presented its own plan for Bethel, and the issue headed to court.
Two federal court rulings later, it sounds as though the county is ready to abandon the fight, and rightfully so. Commissioner Patrick Bell, in whose district the park lies, said last week “ ... it’s a battle we’re not going to win.”
Others also seemed ready to move on. Mich-ael Durkin, a spokesman for the group opposing the camp, said it was time for “reaching out to the representatives of the Y and opening up that dialogue on how we can do this.”
That is the appropriate course of action.
Opponents of the YMCA camp have expressed concerns about traffic and impact on adjoining neighborhoods. Now is the time for all parties involved to work together to make sure those fears were baseless, by creating a development plan that will make the Y project a good neighbor.
We suspect it will be. In fact, we would not be surprised if the YMCA camp at some point in the future isn’t a source of considerable pride for many in the county.
But only time will tell.
If, in fact, commissioners do agree that the time has come to abandon the legal battle, then they must turn their attention to what happens next. What are the infrastructure needs and who will pay for them? How can traffic be handled? What can be done to diminish the impact on neighborhoods?
Accepting that the YMCA will at some point be operating a summer camp at Bethel Park, the county would be well served if its leadership committed itself to making that project something in which we can all take pride.
In truth, if the county had won in court it would have been hardpressed to find the funds to operate another lake park in a satisfactory manner. The YMCA hopes to develop an amenity for the county that will serve area youth in a positive manner, and to do it with private funding. The end result could prove to be a win for the county, even if it did lose in the courtroom.