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Options, contract weighed for Sunset Beach twin lakes

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH — Sunset Beach leaders will discuss options with “stakeholders” as well as limits with a contractor regarding maintenance of the twin lakes on Sunset Boulevard West.

That’s what Sunset Beach Mayor Ron Watts said is the consensus gleaned following much discussion about the future of the privately owned lakes at the monthly town council meeting Monday night, Aug. 4.

A number of residents spoke, including ones living around the lakes urging council to accept an offer to have the lakes deeded to the town from the Ed Gore Trust.

Alan Paynter, immediate past president of the Twin Lakes Residents Association, said he strongly suggests “the town accept this offer.”

Resident Richard Hilderman said council is moving too quickly.

“I think we need to know what the council is thinking on this,” he said. “And I think our various questions need to be answered.”

Trish Shanafelt of Twin Lakes Court cited a variety of people who visit the lakes daily, including individuals, families, fishermen, canoers, kayakers, photographers, bird-watchers and “local working people who park there to eat their lunch and enjoy the peaceful environment, and the wonderful wildlife who have chosen this location to live and nest.”

She added the twin lakes are listed as an important feature in the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) town use plan.

“The town is being given the opportunity to acquire the unique asset of the twin lakes, to embrace this natural setting for protection from future development and for appreciation by local residents and seasonal visitors,” Shanafelt said. “I strongly urge you to accept this gift from the Gore Family Trust.”

Lakeshore Drive resident Dave Lucas held up a document he said is signed by more than 300 people in the community who have “joined this effort.”

Resident Charlie Nern said there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, dating back to when the town started maintaining that land.

“As of right now, I can’t see the town taking over that land,” he said.

Resident Jan Harris said unbeknownst to them, Sunset Beach taxpayers have been shouldering the burden of the cost to maintain private property in the area known as “Twin Lakes,” including Shoreline Woods and Shoreline Drive East.

“It is time tonight to stop this practice of squandering Sunset Beach taxpayers’ precious dollars on private property,” she said, urging opposition Gore’s proposed quit-claim deed that she said would give the town the right to maintain the lakes but not own them.

Bill Ducker asked that town attorney Michael Isenberg provide information on the total liability the town would be assuming if the town goes through with “accepting this gift from the Gore family.”

Former town councilwoman Karen Joseph said it’s important for the town to maintain the lakes rather than allowing them to regress to the state they were in.

“It would be a shame to lose this beautiful amenity,” she said. “I think there are ways that the budget can handle this expenditure.”

 

Council discussion

During council discussion, Watts said the town opted to maintain the lakes a year-and-a-half ago, which councilwoman Carol Scott and former Mayor Richard Cerrato disputed during Monday night’s meeting.

“You’ll have a chance to correct me later,” Watts responded.

“The town took responsibility for these lakes in total, our former finance director informed the owners’ association that they need to get out of business, and they did so and turned over their remaining funds to the town,” Watts said.

Before Gore died July 16, Watts said he talked briefly on the phone with Gore, who Watts said wondered why the issue had come back up.

Watts said his take is one of the issues had to do with clarifying who owns the property.

“Ed said he had offered the town once before years ago a quit-claim deed to clarify the ownership,” Watts said. “The town and I believe the homeowners declined that option years ago. And he would offer that again should the council opt.”

Watts said he sent a note to council members updating them about the matter as well as about the upcoming meeting with homeowners.

He said he has not gone back to the Gore family since Ed Gore’s death because he has no idea whether council is interested in accepting his offer.

He said one of the options is for town staff to look at maintenance expenses involved with the project currently and whether “we take over ownership of the project.”

In general, the town spent “well over double” its first year maintaining the lakes that homeowners had in previous years, Watts said.

He said that included one-time replacement of underwater lines, using more than $10,000 that was provided from the remaining funds.

Watts said the contract with the town had no cap on expenses except to “make it look good, and we’ve gotten what we pay for. It looks terrific.”

He said town administrator Susan Parker has outlined potential liabilities and other expenses.

“That’s how we got here,” Watts said. “There’s no rush on this decision. There’s no motion on the floor tonight as to whether we accept the quit-claim deed.”

He said if council is interested, “I think we have to go back to the Gore family and see if the offer is still good.”

Parker said grant money could be available through the North Carolina Aquatic Weed Program, which would require an on-site evaluation and assessment for possible technical assistance. To be eligible, “you have to be treating weeds that are listed on this invasive weed list by the state of North Carolina,” Parker said.

Isenberg said there are methods where “you can contribute money to the ponds without taking ownership. The key is, you don’t have to own them but the money you give has to be spent for a public purpose.”

Citing bodies of water in other Sunset Beach communities, Scott said she doesn’t “want us to start a precedent picking up on these things.”

Councilman Lou De Vita said there are three or four options.

“We’re trying to get tourism here,” he said. “This is a year-round tourist attraction that we need in our arsenal.”

Councilman Terry Johnson said he’s concerned about the liability issue if the town obtains an easement that provides public access into the water.

Town councilman Mike Williams said he would like to see the town maintain “something there; the whole area, I’m not sure. I don’t know if we want to take ownership of that property. I’d hate to see it deteriorate to what it was.”

 

Main Street parking

Council also discussed a long-range plan to establish designated parking spaces on Main Street on the Sunset Beach island.

Scott said the North Carolina Department of Transportation should be consulted to see if paving can there be moved up to spring 2015 — “not just put a pretty coating on it, but actually bring that road up to a standard,” she said.

As for parking, “we’re trying to balance the needs of renters, property owners and public in using a small beach,” Scott said. “The goal is to try and regulate parking, not make it so onerous that people don’t want to come here.”

 

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.