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Columbia County Commission News

Here they go again: The Columbia County Good ol' Boy $1,519,600 mitigation do over

Last night at the Columbia County, County Commission meeting, the stampede to fork over $1,519,600 of County tax payer dollars to the County Manager's best friend, Bayfield's Sam Oosterhoudt, for wetland mitigation bank credits continued at a full gallop. That nobody knew how many credits the County needed or when they would be available made absolutely no difference to Columbia County's notorious good ol' boy County Commission, which plans most of its business under the cover of darkness to take care of somebody's friend.

Com DePratter studies the Bayfield agreement moments after he received it.

During the June 19, 2011 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Rusty DePratter complained that he and the Board had received the Bayfield contract at the last minute with many blanks. Commissioner DePratter told the Board and the Attorney that they needed to have the contract completely filled in the next time it was presented and when the credits were available. Commissioner DePratter said, "At that time, then I can vote on it. To me, that's very essential."

County Attorney Feagle handed the Bayfield contract to the County Commission fifteen minutes after the meeting began. Mr. Feagle explained that he and Mr. Oosterhaudt's attorneys  were working as fast as they could to get the contract done so the Board could review it.

Long time County Attorney Marlin Feagle and Executive Secretary Carolyn Baker get ready to hand out the contracts 15 minutes after the meeting began.

At approximately 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon the final draft of the Bayfield contract was completed. Speaking about Commissioner DePratter's remarks at the last Board meeting, County Attorney Marlin Feagle said, "I heard it loud and clear. The Board said get this to us timely so we can look at it and review it before we bring it back up for another meeting."

At the time of last night's County Commission meeting the mitigation bank permitting process was still not completed and the mitigation credits that the County was rushing to commit $1,519,600 of working families' taxpayer money to buy had still not met final approval for distribution. No one could say with any certainty when they expected the credits would become available.

Attorney Feagle, without any explanation, told the Board, "Had it not been so important to both the County and Bayfield (Sam Oosterhoudt) I would have suggested that we just pull it and take more time. I don't think that would have been the right thing to do."

Two and a half attorneys

Sidney Ansbacher (left) and Bill Haley were on the Bayfield team.

Bayfield's Oosterhoudt came to the meeting prepared. He had Jacksonville attorney Sidney Ansbacher and local attorney Bill Haley on his side, along with what seemed like one half of County Attorney Marlin Feagle, who at times seemed confused regarding exactly who he represented.

None of the attorneys, Feagle, Ansbacher or Haley attempted to explain the urgency to fork over $1,519,600 to Bayfield's Oosterhoudt, but it sure seemed like they knew.

The contract between Bayfield and the County was once again filled with blank spaces and missing attachments. This week Commissioner DePratter had no problem.

In the real world it works like this

Attorney Feagle explained how mitigation works in the real world: "In the normal chain of events a developer, generally a governmental agency or a private developer, would have a project identified -- you would go to Bayfield -- you would enter into a contract and reserve the credits for a short period of time and then you would proceed to a closing maybe in 30 to 60 days -- you would acquire those credits and you would immediately notify the DEP that you require those credits and they would be ledgered in the name of the developer or the County."

Long time County Attorney Marlin Feagle asked himself five questions:
• Where can the credits be used?
• How much are the credits worth?
• Is there a lien on the credits
• Where is the financial data?
• The County is depending on the owner, but who is the owner?
The answers are here.

Attorney Feagle explained that the only thing that can derail the County from getting the credits is that Mr. Oosterhoudt is not in compliance with the permit.

Attorney Feagle said, "If the permit goes into default you can't get your credits."

Before the meeting, Mr. Oosterhoudt told Mr. Feagle, "We'd be crazy to let that happen."

Nobody on the County Commission recalled Washington Mutual or Lehman Brothers, as in crazier things have been known to happen.

How many credits does the County need – What can they use them for?

Commissioner DuPree stated, "Whenever we do Bell Road we will burn all these credits up.

Keeping it all in the family, Dennis Price is the County's Mitigation Consultant as well as Bayfield's.

The County's Mitigation Consultant, Dennis Price said, "I don't think you would run out of either one of those on any particular project, especially up on Bell Road.

Commissioner DuPree, "I'm gonna buy 27.7 credits..."

Dennis Price,  "This question has come up a lot. My opinion is the credits are good for whatever you want to use them for -- that's how I understand it."

One of Mr. Oosterhoudt's attorneys, Sidney Ansbacher weighed in this way, "As other credits come online... we could just substitute it in the contract."

When will the County use the $1,519,600 credits?

During the conversation attorney Feagle said he only knew of three credits that would be required by the County. No one on the Board nor anyone on the County staff came up with a projected number of the amount of credits or time frame in which Columbia County would use the $1,519,600 investment.

The County's own mitigation consultant, Dennis Price, might have been expected to have come up with a number. He didn't.

The County contract engineer, John Colson, might have been expected to come up with a number. He didn't.

And of course, the County Staff, directed and supervised by County Manager Dale Williams, widely known to be the best friend of Bayfield's Sam Oosterhoudt, might have been expected to come up with a number, he and his staff didn't.

The Slam Dunk

As the hour and thirty three minute conversation droned to an end, Commissioner DuPree once again claimed that he didn't negotiate and that he saved the County $500,000. This claim continues to be suspect, as nothing of substance has ever been presented publicly to show that Commissioner DuPree saved the working families of Columbia County ten cents and the Commissioner's sham negotiations, while he was representing the County Commission, clearly should have been done in the Sunshine, which they were not.

After the unsurprising 5-0 vote to approve the public expenditure of $1,519,600, the County Commission's newest member, Rusty DePratter, decided it would be a good idea to have Mr. Feagle hire whatever attorney he wanted to consult with him on the contract, giving him carte blanche to set the fee. The rest of the Commissioners agreed without a peep.

Last night in Columbia County it was $1,519,600 plus worth of good ol' boy Columbia County business as usual.

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