A great blue heron stand sentinel on the Coosa River. If the great blue could cast a vote, he’d vote for wetlands!
On Aug. 1, the editors of the Rome News-Tribune lambasted the Coosa River Basin Initiative for presumably stalling the arrival of tax revenues and jobs by opposing the development of the proposed Citi Center retail center to be located on a city-owned natural area sandwiched between Ridge Ferry Park and historic Jackson Hill. READ THE EDITORIAL HERE.
As the volunteer President of the CRBI Board of Directors, I am writing to correct the numerous factual errors in the editorial, clarify CRBI’s position on the proposed shopping center and defend CRBI’s 20 years of daily work to protect and improve Coosa River communities.
CRBI is not responsible for Citi Center’s failure to get off the ground. The recent economic downturn forced Ledbetter Properties to delay this project that has been in the works since 2005. In 2012 CRBI asked federal agencies to review the permits issued for this project because Ledbetter Properties had changed their site plans.
CRBI works to make scenes like this possible–people having fun in clean rivers.
The company had originally promised the citizens of Rome and federal regulators that as an integral part of their development plan, it would relocate and restore Burwell Creek which runs through the property. After discovering that such a project would damage their profit margin, they changed their plans. This change rendered their permit invalid. Furthermore, the original permit was issued without citizens having the opportunity to review the plans—another violation of federal guidelines for these type developments.
After federal agencies suspended the permit for the project, Ledbetter Properties voluntarily withdrew their permit application. CRBI’s efforts insured that federal laws were followed and that ordinary citizens would have the right to review the developer’s plans before construction began.
The property CRBI has made such efforts to protect provides important services for our community. These wetlands mitigate the effects of floods, filter pollutants, store sediment, provide wildlife habitat and help keep Burwell Creek and the Oostanaula River clean and healthy. Furthermore, a city-funded study of the property and adjacent Jackson Hill recommended that it be developed into Rome’s “Central Park”—not a shopping center.
Contrary to the editorial’s assertion, Burwell Creek is a relatively healthy urban stream. It harbors fish, turtles, frogs, snakes and more. CRBI’s tests for hazardous substances in the creek have shown no significant contamination. Ledbetter Properties has never conducted tests to support their assertions that Burwell Creek is contaminated because of its proximity to the old city landfill on the property.
The compromise development plan that CRBI first proposed in May 2012 would enable the shopping center to be built, would allow the old city landfill to be capped AND would allow for the preservation of critical natural areas on the site, providing recreational corridors between Ridge Ferry Park and Jackson Hill.
This way our community gets the new shopping opportunities, the jobs, the increased tax revenue…but it also gets working wetlands that can be utilized by everyone via boardwalks and walking trails connecting two of the city’s premiere public lands.
Ledbetter Properties most recent site plans did not accommodate this compromise, provided for only minimal connectivity between the two parks and protected none of the critical wetlands on the site. Hopefully, they will find a way to make this project a win-win for everyone this time.
Giving the thumbs up for a clean Coosa River…
CRBI’s record of improving communities reaches far beyond identifying and correcting water pollution problems like this one. In the coming months, CRBI will invest more than $20,000 locally in developing a new parking area and boat launch on the Etowah River at Kingston. Last year, CRBI assisted the City of Lyerly in securing a $99,000 state grant to develop boat launches on the Chattooga River, and in 2010, $150,000 secured through CRBI’s advocacy efforts affecting a similar plan to build a shopping center on sensitive land in Canton, was used by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to permanently protect 436 acres of land in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.
CRBI is an asset to not only the greater Rome community, but to the entire 5,000 square-mile Coosa River basin and its residents. Our rivers are cleaner, healthier and more inviting, and our communities are stronger because of this organization’s 20 years of dedicated work.
CRBI Board President
Developer’s promise to try to protect wetlands is the good news from the July 24 Redevelopment Committee…
The greater Rome community received good news July 24 at the City of Rome’s Redevelopment Committee meeting concerning Ledbetter Properties ongoing effort to construct a mega shopping center on land that could be part of Rome’s “Central Park.“
Wright Ledbetter told the committee that the company hopes to develop a site plan that will protect important wetlands on the site and provide for natural and recreational trail corridors through the 60-acre site that would connect the city’s adjacent property at Ridge Ferry Park and historic Jackson Hill.
That’s where the good news ends; he added, “Ultimately, we have to make it a feasible development, and there is a certain amount of square footage we need to do that.”
Translation: if the developer concludes that preserving part of this publicly-owned natural area cuts too far into its potential profits, there’ll be no saving “Rome’s Central Park.”
Buried within Ledbetter Properties’ comments to the committee was this threat: if the City supports the wishes of the Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI) and more than 1,000 citizens who have signed a petition asking the city commission to preserve these wetlands, we will be unwilling to build the shopping center.
Given that the majority of the Commission has consistently defended and supported the Ledbetter’s Citi Center development, it is unlikely our local leaders will come to the defense of wetlands and these citizens.
The actions of Commissioner Kim Canada at that July 24 meeting speak volumes about where the Commission’s sympathies lie on this matter. While I attempted to explain to the Committee the importance of reaching a compromise, Commissioner Canada interrupted and denied me any further comments, claiming I was making “threats.”
Had he permitted me to continue this is what he would have heard:
The Coosa River Basin Initiative, and the 3,000 members it represents, very much want to reach the compromise that CRBI first brought before the Commission and Ledbetter Properties in May 2012–build the shopping center, but preserve approximately 6 percent of the property to protect important wetlands and natural/recreational corridors. This is the best plan for our community, and CRBI remains committed to working with Ledbetter Properties and the City of Rome to achieve our common goals.
However, if these efforts fail because Ledbetter Properties deems such a plan “financially infeasible” and the city fails to demand a compromise, CRBI will work to prevent the project from moving forward.
State and federal laws state that when building shopping centers, developers must avoid and limit impacts to important natural areas. Through those same laws, citizens—including citizen groups like CRBI—have the authority to petition those state and federal agencies that will issue environmental permits for this project—and even appeal decisions made by these agencies.
Citizen involvement is at the heart of our American system of government. Even the most civic-minded elected officials don’t always know what is best for the community unless citizens communicate their views. It is unfortunate that CRBI must use this BLOG to complete a statement that should have been allowed at the recent Redevelopment Committee meeting.
CRBI Executive Director