11/24/08 — County, city surrender $3 million grant

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County, city surrender $3 million grant

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 24, 2008 1:53 PM

A lack of interest by landowners around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base has spurred county commissioners and City Council into surrendering a $3 million North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant.

The grant had been obligated, but never received, for the second phase of a project to ease encroachment around the base and for water projects.

A joint project of the county and city, an initial grant of $1.7 million has been used to acquire a little more than 200 acres around the base -- mostly on the more developed and congested northern end.

About $800,000 of the first grant has been expended.

The joint project started just over four years ago as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process in looking at clear zones around the base, County Manager Lee Smith said.

"We started looking at avenues through which we could acquire property," he said.

But the county and city lacked the money to buy the property.

Smith said local officials spoke with Goldsboro attorney and former legislator Phil Baddour who served on the Clean Water Management Trust Fund board.

The idea was to use the grants to acquire property, clear it and restore the property to its original state as far as "water is running free and setting up these kind of wildlife areas," Smith said.

Smith praised Goldsboro Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan who has managed the project.

"She has done a phenomenal job," Smith said.

After an initial success, Smith said the farther officials moved away from the base, the fewer people were willing to sell their property. Smith said that was understandable in cases where the land had been in a family for generations.

Also, it is often difficult to purchase property when a number of heirs is involved, he said.

Both Smith and Ms. Logan said neither the county nor city wanted to force the issue of eminent domain or condemn property.

"We have worked with cooperative landowners who wanted to sell," Smith said.

Ms. Logan said some property involved residences, adding that the city and county did not want to get into displacing and relocating people.

"That was not the purpose of the project. The purpose was to ease encroachment on the base," she said.

Smith said the city was unsuccessful in its attempts to see if the second grant could be used for other local projects.

Ms. Logan and Smith said the project is trying to "wrap up" some existing properties.

Ms. Logan said revisions have been made to the original grant budget and efforts were under way to go back and work with landowners to determine if they have changed their minds.

"We are not looking to unencumber any of the Phase I monies until we go back again to landowners and say 'here is a second chance,'" she said.

"We are in some pretty tough economic times right now," Smith said. "There may be some who would be more interested now in selling."

In some cases the property could still be used for farmland after it is purchased.