Our view: This land purchase stinks

October 26, 2010 9:59:00 AM



Something smells here. 


Columbus Light and Water''s decision to pay $996,000 for 118 acres of property near Pickensville Road and Shady Lane seems mighty hasty -- and mighty expensive. 


The land would be used to spread sludge -- treated sewage -- that''s dredged out of CL&W''s storage lagoons. 


It would seem the lagoons must be filled to the brim, but that isn''t so. 


In 2009, CL&W''s raised the levees on its three storage lagoons just south of Columbus, at a cost of $368,000. The work was supposed to take care of sewage treatment and storage for the next 20 years. 


Last week, the board voted to buy the land from Russell Sheffield, of Sheffield Construction. Board members David Shelton, Brandy Gardner and Jabari O. Edwards voted for the land purchase, with Tom Sneed and Jimmy Graham voting against it. 


The board''s action is even more suspect considering that it had a cheaper bid, $450,000 for 115 acres owned by Ronnie and Donna West, of West Brothers Construction. 


While the West property needed work such as timber removal and wetlands mitigation, the estimate would still have been less than the near-$1 million price tag on the Sheffield property. 


And, the Wests offered to clear the land for free, if they could keep the proceeds from the timber on the property. 


Shelton had been pushing to buy the Sheffield property. He had earlier made a motion to pay $1.18 million for it. 


The whole episode calls into question the decision-making of the board, and its stewardship of CL&W funds. Only weeks ago, CL&W manager Todd Gale said he was warning customers that energy bills could rise as much as 10 percent over the coming year, which he blames on a Tennessee Valley Authority fuel surcharge. Maybe we''re comparing apples to oranges here. But watching the board make an unnecessary land purchase -- and paying twice as much for it as they could have -- doesn''t sit right, all things considered. 


We agree that the city needs a long-term plan to treat and store its sewage waste. But the only thing wasted here was money, not sewage.