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Pastor and county at odds in the Milstead improvement project
Yellow St Milstead Conyers 6-5-11 MK Rockdale News IMG 1332
Yellow Street

CONYERS - The Milstead Community Improvement Project has hit a major roadblock in its development and could result in several residents not receiving storm water services.

Project manager Tanisha Lanier told the board during its work session Tuesday morning that the county still needs to acquire at least nine more lots to complete the project before the state grant expires at the end of this year.

Two of the lots on Grimes and Yellow Streets are managed by a family estate, six of the lots are owned by Living Water of Christ Church, 1806 Yellow Street, Conyers, with final lot owned by Anthony Turner, pastor of Living Water of Christ Church.

Negations for the county to perform work on the land owned by the church and Turner have stalled.

The county has been negotiating with the church, Turner and Turner's attorney since November but has not come to an agreement. Lanier says there's an offer from the county on the table to purchase the easements, but Turner's representative wants the county to purchase the entire lot.

"After to talking the stormwater team, it's not in the county's best interest to acquire those lots just because there's no stormwater use so storm water would have to extend their budget to fully acquire the lots," Lanier told the board.

Each lot costs anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000, says Lanier. The stormwater department has already spent about half of its $51,500 budget for easement acquisitions. The county has already purchased 23 lots for easement related issues.

If a deal can't be struck between the parties before the December 31, 2015 deadline, the county can declare eminent domain on the land or forfeit the nearly a million dollars in grant money back to the state community affairs department.

"So the seniors who are still suffering from flooding within their homes, basement levels, mosquito buildup, things of that sort, they would not receive services," said Lanier. "Also, this grant weighs heavily on the ability to obtain funding for Milstead III, the next project."

Rockdale County Chairman and CEO Richard Oden asked Lanier if there is an opportunity to receive another budget extension. While it is an option, it can only be granted if significant advancement is made in the current negotiation process, she answered.

Oden said the last thing the county wants to do is declare eminent domain, which allows the local government to purchase the land at fair market value without negotiating with the land owner.

Post 1 County Commissioner Oz Nesbitt offered to try to contact the Turner to help in the negotiating process. According to Lanier, it's been difficult to contact Turner and his representative. She says it would take several weeks to a response related to one inquiry. It's been two weeks since she's had contact with the attorney, and three or four months since she spoke with Turner directly.

"I think it would do some good for this project to move forward and reach out to him and see if I can get a response from him if you would allow that happen," Nesbitt asked Oden.

County Attorney Qader Baig suggested that might not be the best course of action.

"It's more appropriate to reach out to the attorney," said Baig. "If he has sought council it's only natural that he wouldn't respond to us except through his council."

Oden agreed with Baig, and suggested Baig, who hasn't been hands-on with the process, to speak "council to council."

"I don't think it's appropriate for you or any other commissioner to reach out to the pastor," said Oden. "I have his personal cellphone number, and I know exactly where he lives at. I don't engage in that process."

Nesbitt said he supported that idea, but wished it had happened before the issue was brought in front of the public. Lanier told the board neither Turner nor his attorney was contacted to inform them the easement topic was to be discussed at the board meeting.

"My concern was that this came public without that opportunity. I think that would've been the most appropriate way to have done it," said Nesbitt. "That changes the mindset and mood and, number one the attitude, of the person we are trying to break resolution with. That's my concern."