The battle over Bethel Park appears headed to federal court.
Stung that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not choose the county’s plan to manage the park, the Forsyth County commission on Thursday directed County Attorney Ken Jarrard to begin legal action.
The commission also asked Jarrard to file an Open Records Act request to determine the basis of the corps’ decision to turn over control of 62-acre lakeside park in northeastern Forsyth to the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta.
The county, which has leased several other corps parks, proposed running Bethel as a 75-site campground with a day-use area open to the general public.
The YMCA’s $20 million plan for a private camp calls for cabins, a marina, sports fields, dining hall, amphitheater, chapel and outdoor pool.
"The Y’s proposal was believed to be in the best public interest," said Patrick Robbins, a spokesman in the corps district office in Mobile, Ala. "It was not a rushed decision ... (the corps) looked at both proposals and made their decision."
The corps’ choice upset Harry Foster, who lives on Swiss Air Road near the park.
"I’m asking that the board do as they said they’d do and seek an injunction against the corps," Foster said at a commission meeting Thursday. "It’s time to make the corps pay attention to their own rules."
Commission Chairman Charles Laughinghouse contends the corps did not follow its own rules. He said the corps should have given the county right of first refusal before the contract was offered to the YMCA. "The corps has rules, and they like to throw them in everybody’s face, but they don’t like following them," Laughinghouse said.
Laughinghouse called an executive session following Thursday’s commission meeting to discuss the issue.
"This is important for a number of citizens in Forsyth," he said. "But it’s not just people in Forsyth, people in Hall County and Gainesville frequent Bethel Park as well."
Laughinghouse and Commissioner David Richard are concerned that residents will have difficulty accessing Lake Lanier if the YMCA turns the park into a private camp.
Richard, whose district includes the park, said he’s also worried about traffic and safety issues a YMCA camp could cause.
"It’s a tiny road that goes to Bethel Park," Richard said. "Every day that camp’s open there will be a line of cars blocking residents from leaving their houses."
He added that the traffic issues could cause questions of safety.
"If there’s an accident at that park, if somebody gets hurt, they’re going to have a tough time getting an ambulance in and out of there," Richard said.
The YMCA has been trying since 2003 to develop a residential camp at the site. The corps was set to award the lease to the YMCA in 2006, but residents complained to the county commission.
To compensate for giving Bethel to the YMCA, the corps has proposed enhancing the amenities at another nearby corps property, Two-Mile Park.
Richard said he didn’t think Two-Mile Park could accommodate the resulting boat and car traffic from such a shift.