The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 5, 2013

County narrowly OKs campground measure

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— A $75,000 measure to begin work on an RV campground near the Elk River was approved by a divided Limestone County Commission.

During a regular meeting Wednesday, the commission voted 2-1 to approve a request by Parks and Recreation Director Mike Nave to fund utility infrastructure for as many as 24 RV campsites on a 35-acre tract of land leased to the county by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Commissioner Ben Harrison voted against the motion, which was put up for a vote by Bill Latimer and seconded by Steve Turner. Both Latimer and Turner voted for the appropriation, while Gary Daly abstained.

“I like camping, and I like providing for people but I don’t think we should do it at the expense of the taxpayer,” said Chairman Stanley Menefee, who votes only in case of a tie. “I don’t think we should do it because $75,000 won’t open up the RV park. I don’t think another $75,000 would do it.”

Harrison said he would have preferred the commission delayed voting on the motion, which he did not believe would pass.

“If we can’t stop a bleeder like that, what hope do we have with the real gushers?” said Harrison after the meeting. “That was kind of discouraging. My concern was you don’t come to someone and ask for $75,000 without a detailed plan. There were no detailed plans about how that $75,000 was going to be used.”

Joel Wilson of Wilson Construction in Huntsville attended the meeting to inform the commission of his company’s plans to renovate an existing RV park known as Lucy’s Branch Resort & RV, which is about a mile from the county’s proposed site.

The tract Wilson wants to develop was closed about four years ago and is owned by Athens developer Jim Christopher.

He recently received a $500,000 quote to refurbish his park, which covers about 55 acres and has more than 100 spaces allotted for RVs.

“I’m not opposed to anything. I’m a little bit bothered by the fact the county — with taxpayer money — wants to compete with what we’re trying to do down there,” said Christopher, who did not attend the meeting.

Daly said he abstained from voting because he did not oppose the measure but did not want the county to be in competition with private business owners.

Turner said he voted for the measure after speaking extensively to Nave and hearing Wilson describe the redevelopment of Lucy’s RV as “upscale.”

“The plans I was told the county was going to do is just a basic campsite, and in my mind that doesn’t put us in competition with private business owners …” Turner said. “I don’t think anyone in the commission expects the place to be a big revenue-generator. We’re just trying to bring in some revenue.”

The funding request originated during the Jan. 30 work session when Nave told the commission that the additional campground would be an economic boost and another revenue stream for the county.

The county currently operates the 50-acre Cowford Campground, which has 46 RV spaces near the Tennessee River. Nave said Cowford, which is open from early January through November, has an 85 percent occupancy rate from March through         October.