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Meeting about Bethel could be last
Session to gauge support for fight
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Forsyth County News
Commissioner Patrick Bell wants to know if residents think Forsyth County should continue fighting for control of Bethel Park.

The lengthy legal battle will be the sole topic of a town hall meeting Monday night. Bell organized the session, which he said could be the last on the subject.

A federal court recently denied the county's request to stop development at the 62-acre park in northeastern Forsyth.

The Army Corps of Engineers has granted a lease to the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta, which plans to build a private camp and parking lot on two of the park's three peninsulas on Lake Lanier.

The county has until Jan. 23 to decide whether to appeal the court's decision, said Bell, who hopes a decision could come as early as Tuesday.

"We're getting to the point where we're going to lose any bargaining power that we have," he said.

Bell described commissioners' opinions on the subject as a "mixed batch of comments."

"The concern on my part is we are using taxpayer money to fight a fight," he said. "We don't know if the county will ever be given that park even if we were to prevail.

"With the recent denial of the preliminary injunction, it was very, very boldly stated. The judge was very direct in his denial."

Commissioners will consider the comments from Monday's meeting in their decision, Bell said.

A large turnout is expected, though Bell identified three distinct groups likely to attend: supporters of the YMCA plan; people who live near the park; and those who don't want the county spending money to fight a legal battle.

Jeff Anderson plans to go Monday as a YMCA member and concerned county resident.

"I'd like to see the county quit throwing those kind of funds away on what I believe to be a hopeless legal fight," he said.

Anderson, who attended a town hall session about the park in October, said he expects the gathering to be "emotional."

Attempts to reach representatives of Save Bethel Park group, which wants to keep the site public, were not successful.

The YMCA has worked to develop the park since 2003.

The corps expected to lease the site to the nonprofit in 2006. But in response to residents' complaints, the county also sought to lease the property and submitted its plans in 2007.

The county has maintained that, according to the Flood Control Act of 1944, the corps is required to give the local government the right to first refusal to the site before leasing it to another entity.

The county has also argued that the corps violated its own policies and regulations regarding public access to areas by leasing the park to the YMCA and failed to prepare a proper environmental impact statement before inking a contract.

Bell plans to give those of each side of the issue 15 minutes to present their cases, then Bell will address the county's position. A question-and-answer period will follow.

The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. in the commissioners' meeting room, suite 220, of the county administration building in downtown Cumming.