Gordon County commissioners on Tuesday decided to give the project back to the state of Georgia.
Gordon County, which only a few months ago agreed to build the park, wanted to see Resaca Battlefield Historic Site built in time for the national sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which lasts from 2011-2015.
Prospects for that timing are now uncertain.
“We’ve run into time, permit and money issues we could not foresee,” Commission Chairman Alvin Long said Thursday.
In a letter, commissioners asked the state to do a “scaled down version using the available state funds that have been earmarked for this project.”
County officials say they expect the state to build a road, trails, outdoor exhibits and restrooms. But a proposed visitors center, the centerpiece of the original proposal, may not be built for years, if ever.
State Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said “nothing has been finalized” and that the department has not seen the letter from Gordon County.
“The DNR is committed to moving forward on the project and is looking forward to seeing Resaca open for visitation,” Hatcher said Thursday.
“I can confirm that we are continuing discussions with Gordon County about development of Resaca,” she said.
“It’s possible that the DNR will be responsible for building the road, trails, outdoor exhibits and restrooms, and that Gordon County would be responsible for maintaining the historic site, but this has not been formally agreed to yet.”
Long and County Administrator Randall Dowling said the county is willing to provide maintenance, security and trash pickup at the site.
Georgia, which faces significant budget issues, originally earmarked $5 million for the project. That amount was reduced. The state eventually gave Gordon County $3.3 million and a 50-year lease to the nearly 600 acres. But the county would have had pay the additional $1.7 million from general funds or sales tax money.
Gordon County has a high unemployment rate and officials have been grappling with coming up with enough taxpayer money. Commissioners recently had to reduce benefits for county employees.
“I’m getting a lot of flak from people during tough economic times,” said Long.
The kicker for the county appears to have been notification from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the permit application is not complete. The Corps is concerned about wetlands issues.
Dowling said the county had been assured by state officials last year that the permit was completed and would be forthcoming. It wasn’t.
Gordon learned that the Army Corps wants further study, drilling, compensatory mitigation and soil testing to ensure a proposed elevated roadway won’t cause harm. The Corps wrote in a February letter the proposed site would have an “adverse impact to intermittent streams.”
That means a six-month delay and a $100,000 expenditure by the county. Modifications could cost thousands more.
Dowling said he was “naïve” in believing the state when it said the county would have the permit by now. “They led us to believe [the project] was biddable.”
Hatcher said the DNR “expected to get all of them [the permits] approved, but one ended up being rejected. At this time, I don’t know what the next step would be.”
Local residents began pushing for the park in the 1990s, and the state acquired the property. The Friends of Resaca, a nonprofit group interested in telling the story of the battle, organized support and raised money.
The 600-acre tract is shaped like a fish hook. Some of it is flood-prone and in wetlands, and the U.S. Army Corps ordered the county to move the proposed location of the visitors center.
Several Georgia Civil War sites are within a few miles of Interstate 75, the busy highway that shadows the route of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
But the people of Gordon County say they have something unique. Interstate 75 actually runs through the middle of the Resaca battleground, making the Civil War site literally just an exit ramp away.
Resaca is where Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s army and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee bloodied each other in fighting occurring May 13-15, 1864. There was no clear winner. Sherman continued his march toward Atlanta, which he took several months later.
Long maintains Gordon County could have built the site quicker and cheaper than the state but was bound by state plans and requirements. Gordon County will suspend the bidding process.
In its letter, commissioners thanked the state for allowing the “county the opportunity to construct this state historic site on behalf of the state and sincerely wish[es] things had turned out differently.”
Gordon County officials had hoped the battlefield park would provide an economic shot in the arm.
“I am very disappointed. I have worked on it 10 years myself,” Long said.