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Marine Commission Backs Ramsey Creek Swimming Beach

David Boraks/CorneliusNews.net

Lake Norman Marine Commissioners on Monday unanimously endorsed to Mecklenburg County’s plans to construct a public swimming beach at Ramsey Creek Park. County officials at the meeting said the project still needs state and federal approval, but that it’s on track for summer 2016 opening – if not sooner.

Marine commissioners, who represent the counties around the lake, voted 5-0 in support of the plan, with two minor conditions: They asked the county to place “no wake” or other safety buoys at the edges of the swimming area. And they want the county to develop a “recreational safety plan.” Project officials at the meeting said both conditions would be part of the final plan.

Mecklenburg County officials and consultants presented the plan, which calls for a half-acre beach to be constructed as soon as this winter on a grassy part of the park that sticks into the lake.

The county is spending $425,700 to design and build the new beach, using bond funding that voters approved back in 2008. A recession soon after that stalled bond-funded county projects for several years, but the county revived the project in 2013, to cheers from local officials and business leaders who have been lobbying for public swimming for several years.

At Monday’s meeting, officials gave a few more details about the plan. The 1/2 acre sand beach would curve around the point, and be surrounded by 10 inch timber pilings, with 4-inch plastic lines between them, to rope off the area. The beach and grassy area next to it would be fenced, to control access. Sidewalks would be extended to the beach, and a grassy road would allow access for emergency vehicles.

Design consultant Jeffrey Smith of Bulla Smith Engineering told commissioners designers had considered putting the beach in a nearby cove, but decided against that for environmental and topographic reasons.

“This has the least amount of disturbance to the environment,” Smith said. It also has the shallowest slope into the water, he added.

Smith said the beach would be manned by 4 or 5 lifeguards at a time during the daylight hours during the swimming season.

The park’s neighbors along Nantz Road have expressed concern about traffic, and someone asked Smith for an estimate of how many people might use the park. “That’s nebulous,” he said, adding that it’s hard to project the capacity of the swimming area or how many people might use it. Joe Kluttz of Duke Energy chimed in that he thought the size of the beach and limited parking would regulate usage.

Ramsey Creek would become only the second public park with swimming on the lake, joining Lake Norman State Park in Troutman. Mecklenburg County once allowed swimming, but banned it several decades ago afta drownings in the 1970s prompted a county swimming ban.

Karen Weston-Chien, the county’s project manager, said the county is close to submitting key applications to Duke Energy and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which control the lake, as well as to state environmental officials. Once those are filed, possibly in the coming weeks, it could take several months for approval.

Then, the county would seek a contractor to do the work, which Weston-Chien said wouldn’t take long. “It’s not a huge construction project. It’s relatively simple,” she said.

The county has said the beach should be open by the 2016 swimming season. On Monday, Chien suggested it could be ready sooner. But on Tuesday she told CorneliusNews.net that the county isn’t changing its 2016 projection.

The permitting, contracting and other tasks still remaining are major hurdles, she said. “We’ve got a lot of hoops to jump through and with decreased personnel at many of these agencies, it’s going to be a challenge.

Meanwhile, Mecklenburg County will hold a public meeting before it starts work on the project. That Public Information Session will be held on Sept. 18, 2014, at 6pm in the Cornelius Town Hall.

Originally published by Cornelius News