By DAVID BORAKS
A new public swimming area at Ramsey Creek Park on Lake Norman could open as early as a year from now, in Summer 2014, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Karen Bentley said Friday. The county budget approved Tuesday includes $430,000 to design and build a swimming beach at the park off Nantz Road, in Cornelius.
“How does swimming in 2014 sound?” Bentley asked the crowd at the Lake Norman Chamber’s Focus Friday issues session at the chamber meeting room in Cornelius. “Well, it’s gonna happen.”
Bentley, the commissioner for District 1, which includes north Mecklenburg, said how fast the project gets built will depend in part on now soon the county can obtain approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which along with Duke Energy has a say in all improvements around the lake.
“It does depend on FERC, but we believe that process will move smoothly. We’re going to build a beach, and we’ll have people in the water at Ramsey Creek by 2014,” Bentley said.
When finished, the Ramsey Creek project will give Mecklenburg County residents something they haven’t had for at least three decades: a public-access beach on Lake Norman. A series of drownings in the 1970s prompted a county swimming ban. But Bentley and local business and community leaders have been pushing for several years to end the ban.
It would be only the second public beach on the lake, and the only one in Mecklenburg. (Lake Norman State Park in Troutman allows swimming during the summer season.)
Bill Russell, the Lake Norman Chamber’s president and CEO, has championed the project for the past several years. “I’m absolutely excited,” he said after hearing Bentley’s comments Friday. He says the lack of a public beach in the area was “economic discrimination.”
“If you don’t own property on the water, or own a personal watercraft, or have friends or associates, you can’t access the water,” Russell said.
“We say we have a great lake, and yet you can’t get in it,” he added.
The lack of a beach also is drag on tourism and visitors: People who come to the Lake Norman area for tourism, sporting events and other activities also can’t access the water,” he said.
The $430,000 for the project is included in the county’s list of capital projects for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Officials said the project will include clearing brush from an existing sandy area and removing stumps from under the shallow water near the beach.
[The $1.7 billion county budget raises property taxes by 2.35 cents per $100 of assessed value, and according to county officials would "sustain current services, while addressing the growth in CMS student population, opening of new parks, annualized cost for library operating hours and merit increases for County employees."]
COUNTY MANAGER, ASSESSOR SEARCHES
Also at Friday’s meeting, Commissioner Bentley gave an update on the county commission’s actions over the past year. “We got right to work … and made some very significant leadership changes,” she said, including the firing of County Manager Harry Jones. “I think that was a good move,” she said.
Bentley said the county commission is hiring a search firm this week to help with the search for a successor. She hopes a new county manager can be in place by this October.
She said she wants a “fiscally minded” manager, who understands the county. However, she added, “My preference would be that we have no internal candidates, (a person) with no ties to the county, who can roll up their sleeves and look for efficiencies.”
Meanwhile, the commission also is searching for a new county assessor, and that person also could be in place by October or November. In the short term, the county expects to hire what Bentley called an “outside expert” as interim assessor to manage the office until the new person starts.
A subcommittee plans to meet Monday to talk about hiring Debbie King of Matthews for that job. She’s a former tax administrator in Union County who also once worked in the Mecklenburg Assessor’s Office.
Focus Friday at the Chamber is sponsored by DavidsonNews.net and CorneliusNews.net.
List of Fiscal 2014 Mecklenburg County capital projects, including the Ramsey Creek swimming area. (PDF)
Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation web page for Ramsey Creek Park
Oct. 9, 2012, DavidsonNews.net/WFAE, “County says public swimming could return to Lake Norman.”