Commissioners argue over DOT grant money

Augusta Mayor Pro Tem Betty Beard and Commissioner Andy Cheek sparred Tuesday over a state grant that doesn't even belong to the city, and Mr. Cheek prevailed when the board voted to honor his request for $50,000 of the grant for a white-water rafting course study.

 

The $450,000 Department of Transportation grant to the Downtown Development Authority was designated to repair the old Depot at Sixth and Reynolds streets, but that project is on hold because the property is under contract to Bluffton, S.C., developer Harry E. Kitchen Jr.

Mr. Kitchen said he will preserve as much of the century-old building as possible as part of his Watermark development. So Mrs. Beard and the Third Level Canal Task Force want the grant money to buy and develop the historic Southern Milling Co. to anchor that end of the canal. But Mr. Cheek wants $50,000 for the white-water rafting study for a course on the Augusta Canal so it will be ready when the next special-purpose sales tax vote takes place.

"This will take nearly a mile and a quarter of waterfront that is now a neglected junkyard and turn it into some of the most beautiful waterfront that we have in the heart of the city," Mr. Cheek said.

Mrs. Beard objected, and made a motion to deny the request.

"I want you to know I support white-water rafting," she said. "I think it would be great for the city."

However, she added, the task force's priority is to try to save the milling company building.

Canal Authority Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse told commissioners the Transportation Department has to reallocate the grant money.

"You can't do it," he said. "You can request that they reallocate them for projects, but the grant is not to the city of Augusta. The grant is for the DDA, and as far as I know, the DDA does not plan on notifying the state they're not going to use it until that property is sold. While it's under contract, it's not sold yet. And I think their intention is to hold that grant until they know for sure that property is sold, and you won't know that until the check changes hands."

Mrs. Beard's motion died for lack of a second, but Mr. Cheek's passed.

"I think this is terrible," Mrs. Beard said.

But Mr. Cheek said if it hadn't been for him working with the DDA and Regional Development Authority, there wouldn't have been a grant in the first place.

"She didn't work for it to begin with, and she wants it all for a project that is in fact a johnny come lately," he said. "For anybody to want the whole thing for themselves is just greedy. I'm in favor of working with her projects and finding more grants for it, but we need a little seed money to get this feasibility study done."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.