Disputed Land in Marion County Gets Another Buyer

By Laurie Bernstein - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The sign says it all..."We won."

Residents of Marion County put it up just days after learning The Nature Conservancy, a international environmental non-profit, plans on buying 1700 acres of disputed land north of Buena Vista.

They have been fighting to keep the Graal Group out, afraid of negative effects like explosives and loud noises from the company's proposed training facility.

"A close knit neighborhood came together and pulled together to fight this thing. We are very happy with the outcome, since the whole community has been fighting this thing for over a year," said Vincent Gumz, one of the local residents who protested the new facility.

Now, instead of C-4 and 60 caliber firing ranges, The Nature Conservancy plans on keeping the land as is.

The deal stems from a partnership with Fort Benning to preserve the Chattahoochee Fall Line ecosystem, including the protection of long-leaf pine forests and sandhill habitats native to the area, as well as boosting the population of the threatened gopher tortoise.

It sounds like a good deal all around, but Marion County commissioners say the loss of the training facility is a blow to the local economy.

"We were hoping this would bring jobs and tax revenue, but it's on hold, and we are looking and searching for new prospects in order to bring economic growth to the area," said George Neal, the Chairman of the Marion County Board of Commissioners.

According to county commissioners, the Graal Group is still looking for more land in Marion County to build that training facility.

The court battle still continues though--residents have appealed to the State Supreme Court, saying the county violated sunshine laws in holding closed door meetings to discuss the land's rezoning.