Commission makes no decision

Racing enthusiast and local produce company owner Leo Charette asked Augusta commissioners Tuesday to move on building a drag strip on 235 acres off Hephzibah-McBean Road, but a divided board took no action.

 

Mr. Charette told commissioners that two feasibility studies have indicated the city would make at least $20 million a year for the city and eventually benefit Augusta as much as the Masters Tournament does.

The city's only investment would be $4.7 million to build the track on property less than two miles from a previously proposed site at Augusta Corporate Park, off Mike Padgett Highway. The property, east of Clark Road, is owned by Augusta attorney Franklin Askin Jr.

Commissioner Andy Cheek, a proponent of the drag strip, asked what the next step would be to get the project moving, and City Administrator Fred Russell said he needed direction from the commission.

Commissioner J.R. Hatney said that he thought the commission had already given that in its last vote on the drag strip and that the only thing needed was a suitable site.

"Is there a problem with the site?" he asked. Mr. Russell said it was not zoned for a race track.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked if the surrounding neighborhood had been involved in the process, and the crowd of residents at the meeting said, "No."

Commissioner Jimmy Smith said it was ironic that both of the proposed tracks have been in his district. He said he was amazed that Mr. Charette, who lives in Columbia County, and Roy "Eddie" Salvo, of Beech Island, would ask to build the track in Augusta. Mr. Charette noted that his business is in Richmond County and that he owns two houses in the county.

Commissioner Marion Williams said a study by the International Hot Rod Association said the track would generate $30 million a year, and the city would get $2 out of every ticket sold.

Commissioner Joe Bowles challenged the financial-benefit claims and the $25,000 study the city had done. He said he had pointed out four major flaws to the study's author, who responded by warning him that he would have his attorney take out a restraining order against him if he contacted him further.

Mr. Smith said the location is on a two-lane road with an 80-foot property line for entrance and exit, no city sewerage and a nearby fire station that could be impeded from emergencies by race track traffic.

"I'm not against a drag strip," he said. "I'm against the location. I'm also against the county being involved in it."

At that point, Mr. Copenhaver said there was no proposal on the table for commissioners to vote on, and the commission moved on to other business.

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

COMMUNITY PROTESTS SITE

Talk of building a drag strip in another south Augusta location has infuriated residents off Hephzibah-McBean Road, the latest proposed location.

Several residents of the area gathered Tuesday evening on a moment's notice when they learned that the CSRA Help organization will stand with them in opposition to the idea.

"We moved out there to get away from the noise and traffic," Sarah Dutton said. She and her husband, James, added to the list of reasons Augusta should not to get into the drag-strip construction business: at least four assisted living/nursing homes are in the immediate area.

Ray Walker, who worked with Woody Merry of the CSRA Help group to battle the last proposed location for a drag strip, again will work with the residents of the community.

Another residents meeting will be scheduled at the McBean Community Center.

- Sandy Hodson, staff writer