County ponders Lehigh proposal

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Local News

August 22, 2018 - 10:56 AM

Allen County commissioners, including Bill King who was sworn in Tuesday morning, have concerns about purchase of 250 acres of the old Lehigh Cement Company property, including its 109-acre lake.
Commissioner Jerry Daniels, elected chairman with the resignation of Tom Williams, noted there was “real property east (of the lake) and around the county shops that might be developed.” His concern with the lake, touted as a prime recreation venue for fishing, camping and similar activities, is “Iola has water rights,” which leaves him uneasy: “What’s a lake without water.”
Iola’s rights, however they’re configured, are effective

only if severe drought prompted the city to tap the lake as a water source. Those rights, actually a licensing agreement from 1990, could be voided by sale of the property, a Lawrence attorney who specializes in water issues told Iola Industries, current owner of the site.
King said he talked to a number of people and “I’ve heard no one in favor” of the purchase, first proposed at $1.4 million.
The price is likely to change. Commissioners, in response to the proposal, initially suggested $750,000 to $800,000 might be more realistic. Last week, commissioners and Iola Industries agreed to share the cost of a full-blown appraisal, expected to cost about $10,000.
Iola Industries arrived at $1.4 million through conversations with an El Dorado real estate firm that had been involved in comparable sales, said Jim Gilpin, who made the initial proposal on behalf of Iola Industries.
King continued: “Public works (employees) wouldn’t have time to take care of a lake. Someone would have to be hired. The public works director in Bourbon County told me they lose $25,000 a year” on camping income compared to the cost of maintenance. “There’s a lot of waste area (surrounding the lake), and $1.4 million is way too much.”
Iola Industries envisions the property as a boost for tourism and economic development, in some measure as a recreation destination, if it were to become a public venue. That would hold true for Allen Countians interested in fishing, camping and related activities. Former Lehigh property north of the lake contains the extensive Lehigh Portland Trails, weaving routes of hiking and biking opportunities.
Undersheriff Roy Smith said he was familiar with a similar lake and accompanying land in Labette County owned by Parsons. When he was employed by Labette it was a concern for county law enforcement, Smith said, in part because it was a drain on manpower already thinned by having to patrol all of the county. Sheriff Bryan Murphy thought similar circumstances would occur if Allen County obtained the Lehigh property, and lake. Murphy also was concerned by its isolation from populated areas.
Bob Garrett, who announced as a candidate for Williams’ seat (won by King), pointed out the 97-acre lake north of Moran, referred to either as Cedar or Katy lake was for sale; its price: $550,000.
Commissioners have indicated they would not decide whether to buy the Lehigh property until all commission seats are decided in November and the new commission is seated in early January.

IN OTHER business, commissioners:
— Agreed to be custodian for an enhanced portable toilet provided by Carol Ross, Iola Housing Authority director. Ross said she would purchase the toilet from proceeds of a class action lawsuit that guaranteed Iola and other housing authorities refunds taken back by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2012. Allen County and Community National Bank each provided $1,000 to participate in the lawsuit. Ross thought the toilet, with a number of high-tech features, would be a strong addition to Farm-City Days, Biblesta and similar events. The device will arrive in the spring, at a cost of something less than $50,000.
— Agreed to host a public forum, proposed by Commissioner John Brocker, to gather public input on whether commissioners should provide $50,000 for a “Visit Allen County” project being developed by Thrive Allen County. Cost will be $75,000, with Thrive putting in $25,000, and, according to County Counselor Alan Weber, a Thrive board member, the $75,000 — with $50,000 from the county — would be ongoing. The county, Iola and Iola Industries each contribute $20,000 a year to economic development activities managed by Thrive. A date for the forum will be announced later.
— Approved $1,475.80 for purchase and installation of solar shades for windows in the Assembly Room. Decorator Supply of Iola would do the job.

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