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The Sordid History of Georgia's Infrastructure Development Districts Amendment

Chuck Bonner
 


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Who was behind the idea of “Infrastructure Development Districts" (IDDs) in the first place? This is a pivotal question, and the answer sheds important light on the truth behind the arguments for and against the passage of this far-reaching amendment.

If the idea for the IDD came out of the anguished county commissioners who simply couldn't find a way to build the roads, water facilities, sewage handling systems, and other necessary infrastructure for their constituents, then the arguments of the proponents would ring true. This would indeed be a creative way to expand and improve infrastructure by empowering private funds to do what is normally done by taxpayer money. Brilliant!

On the other hand, if the earliest days of IDD are tied up with landowners who stand to profit from it, or with bankers who stand to lend money to developers with government-guaranteed construction projects, the whole idea begins to smell foul. Further, if those who stand to profit from IDDs were tightly connected to the state government, and especially if they have an undisputed history of contempt for the law and the rights of other citizens, the smell could drive the skunks away!

Hold your nose, folks. Here is a brief history of how the proponents of the Infrastructure Development Districts Amendment plan to cash in on Georgia's precious natural resources and sell out the rights of Georgia's citizens.

In describing the sequence of events leading up to the IDD amendment on this year's ballot, I will concentrate on Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area. This is only one of Georgia's precious wild areas threatened by the greed and corruption of the proponents of the IDD amendment. The same kind of story is repeated throughout Georgia, and most of them have some connection to Governor Sonny Perdue.

Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area

Once there was a beautiful place called Oaky Woods in Houston County, not far south of Macon and Warner Robins. For most of the 20th century, it was owned by a succession of paper companies. They harvested large tracts of it for pulpwood and replanted new crops of trees, but much of Oaky Woods remained pristine wilderness. The last paper company to own Oaky Woods was Weyerhaeuser. For most of the past few decades, Weyerhaeuser leased the land to the state for a nominal fee, and the state made it available to the citizens for hunting and other outdoor recreation as Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area.

Besides its recreational value, Oaky Woods was essential habitat for many plants and animals, many of which are being pushed toward extinction, and it is considered the core habitat for black bears in central Georgia. For this reason, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources had documented Oaky Woods as a prime target for the state to acquire if ever the opportunity should present itself.

Brief Timeline of Recent Events

Suddenly, a few years ago, things began to happen.

  • July, 2003: Larry O'Neal, Governor Perdue's personal attorney, forms Maryson, LLC, on behalf of Governor Sonny Perdue and his wife, Mary. Note that this same Larry O'Neal is also a state representative, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and a member of the board of the Columbus Bank and Trust (about which, more will be revealed).
  • Maryson, LLC, buys 100 acres of land adjacent to Oaky Woods.
  • February, 2004: Weyerhaeuser announced its intention to sell Oaky Woods, with a preference for selling it to a buyer who would use it for nature conservation.
  • The Nature Conservancy announced plans to lend $25,000,000 to the Georgia Chapter of the Nature Conservancy to buy the land. Their only condition was that the state of Georgia must issue a letter declaring its intention to buy the land at some unspecified future date. This letter would not be a specific commitment by the state to buy the land by any particular deadline or at any particular price, just a general expression of interest.
  • Citing budget constraints, and in spite of the Department of Natural Resources having identified Oaky Woods as a prime acquisition target, and despite the fact that the Nature Conservancy was not even requesting a specific or near-term commitment to buy Oaky Woods, Governor Perdue declined to issue the requested letter. The Nature Conservancy then withdrew its offer to buy Oaky Woods.
  • September, 2004: A consortium of Houston County businessmen (which would later become known as “Winding River Development") purchased Oaky Woods from Weyerhaeuser. The purchase was financed by Columbus Bank and Trust. (Remember them? Rep. Larry O'Neal is a member of the board?)
  • September, 2006: One of the owners of Oaky Woods is cited for allegedly hunting doves illegally in nearby Peach County. One of the other owners of Oaky Woods was also present, along with a number of prominent businessmen and the sherriff of Houston County, but only one, the owner of the property where the hunt occurred, was cited. During the arrest, the alleged perpetrator stated that there would be implications for the state's lease of Oaky Woods if charges were pursued. The alleged perpetrator went so far as to telephone Noel Holcomb, the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources to request that he order the game wardens to leave the property. To his credit, Holcomb refused to do this and the citation was issued.
  • February, 2007: After years of failure of the “Winding River Development" to get past zoning restrictions, and after several bills to permit the development of “private cities" failed to get past the legislature on constitutional grounds, SR 309 was introduced into the legislature. This bill was a proposal to amend the state constitution to permit these “private cities" or “infrastructure development districts. " Such an amendment requires approval by the state's voters, and it is this amendment that will appear on this November's ballot as Amendment #3, Infrastructure Development Districts.
  • March 27, 2007: In a display of old-fashioned “midnight legislation, " SR 309 is adopted by the state legislature. The state senate adjourned after the bill was defeated, then was called back into session after many of the bill's opponents had gone home for the evening. The “repacked" senate approved the bill at 5:50 PM.
  • April, 2007: The state's lease on Oaky Woods was increased by 24%, making it the most expensive leased Wildlife Mangement Area in Georgia. See the incident of September, 2006, for the reasons why.
  • November, 2008: The voters choose!

Now, in November of 2008, the future of Georgia's precious natural heritage is in the hands of the voters. The rights of the residents who may be duped into buying a plot on a 21st century fiefdom are in the hands of the voters.

Will you say “yes" to modern-day land barons? Will you say “yes" to people who think they are above the law? Will you say “yes" to the destruction of Oaky Woods and other precious natural areas in Georgia? Will you say “yes" to the financial ruin of county governments throughout the state in order to enrich the banks and the developers?

I urge all Georgia voters to vote NO! on Amendment 3. If you know someone who lives in Georgia, urge them to find out the truth about Governor Perdue's scheme to create fiefdoms of indentured serfs paying taxes without representation to line his own pockets and those of his good old boys.

Chuck Bonner is a lifelong hiker, and former resident of Georgia, who is greatly concerned for the future of Oaky Woods, which the IDD amendment threatens to destroy. Check the facts for yourself! More information, and a full set of links to supporting sources of this information, are available at http://www.hikingwithchuck.com/Where/OakyWoodsControversy.htm

Or you can contact Chuck for more information at http://www.hikingwithchuck.com/AboutSite/AboutSiteFeedbackForm.htm

All residents of Georgia are urged to get the facts and vote NO on amendment 3.

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