For more than a decade now in Pulaski County, there has been — to some minds — a giant scarlet “A” hanging overhead: “A” for “annexation.”
Some annexations have been less controversial than others, but most have spurred some kind of debate over another turbulent “A” — alcohol.
It was that way in 2005, when the City of Burnside — firmly on the southern edge of the county — first annexed its way along Lake Cumberland shoreline to reach Lee’s Ford Marina, which is located in the west near Nancy, so that the Harbor Restaurant there could take advantage of Burnside’s alcohol beverage sales capabilities, long before Somerset went fully “wet.”
At the time, many residents of western Pulaski County weren’t entirely happy that Burnside was now suddenly located in their backyard, particularly given the reason why.
Flash-forward to 2015, a full decade later — and the story sounds very familiar.
Last week, the Burnside City Council gave the first reading (with no action taken) on an ordinance to annex additional shoreline from Lee’s Ford to Pulaski County Park, so as to annex a portion of the park facility located off of west Ky. 80.
It’s a move done to help the Pulaski County Government, which owns the park and would continue to own and maintain it even were the annexation to pass — Burnside would simply be absorbing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-owned ground on which the park sits.
The county government is working on landing potential concert events at the park, which could bring big-name artists here and millions upon millions of tourist dollars, or so is the hope. These concerts could be contingent upon the sale of alcoholic products on-site, however, and to make that possible, since the unincorporated part of the county in which the park exists is “dry,” either Burnside or Somerset would have to annex it in.
Whatever the feelings of those in Burnside and elsewhere around the county, it’s clear the plan is receiving its share of backlash from western Pulaski residents.
“Most of the people in my area are against the annexation,” said Jason Turpen, First District Magistrate on the Pulaski Fiscal Court, representing residents to the west. “I’ve heard just a few who don’t have a problem with it, but the majority of people in the Nancy area (do).”
Turpen said that he himself is “not in favor of annexation,” signaling a gap between him and his new judge-executive, Steve Kelley, who responded to the annexation ordinance news last week by calling the potential event developments a “big win for tourism” and noted that “the first step is to be able to have concerts that may or may not want to have alcohol.”
One of Turpen’s constituents, John Fox, is a Nancy area farmer who is also opposed to the annexation. Fox is helping to form and facilitate a meeting this coming Tuesday, March 17, at 7 p.m. in the community room of the Mill Springs Battlefield Museum in Nancy.
“It’s not a debate, it will not be an argument. It’s a town hall-format,” said Fox. “We will keep things under control, and we are polling questions from the public. We’re asking people to submit questions that will be asked to our elected officials who will show up.”
Turpen and Kelley both told the Commonwealth Journal that they planned to attend, and Fox said he also spoke to Third District Magistrate Jimmy Wheeldon, who “said if at all possible, he will be there,” according to Fox. Nancy-area community leaders are also expected to attend and pose the questions that are submitted, said Fox.
Those with questions can contact Fox at 606-425-7103, or Todd Daulton at 606-636-6712.
“Individually, we don’t have a lot of say-so, but if you can get everybody in the same spot, I think what their common goal is, to discuss and ask questions to our elected representatives, will be much more effective in the end,” said Fox.
He added that the “consensus” among those in the Nancy area opposed to the annexation is that “Burnside, which is an incorporated city, is trying to overreach to a party of the county which is unincorporated, and most of the people in that part of the county would rather things stay the way they are.”
Fox said he is “not opposed” to making revenue from the park. That said, he isn’t sure Pulaski County Park is the most feasible site for large-scale concert events.
“Pulaski County Park isn’t really set up to facilitate such an event,” said Fox. “It doesn’t have ample parking space. There’s only one road going in and out to handle that much traffic. ... I think there are other locations in the county that would facilitate something like they’re discussing better. The consensus of the community is that we’re being overrun here and we don’t really have a say-so in the matter.”
Turpen agreed that represented the area’s concern, saying, “The biggest thing is they don’t feel like they have a voice in the decision right now. I think they want that.”
However, “as far as the concert, I don’t have a problem with it,” he added. “I think that the same reason we had the ‘Pickin’ in the Park’ down there was to promote the park and get new people down there to see it. I don’t think there will be any problems with having concerts at the park.”
Burnside Mayor Ron Jones noted at last week’s city council meeting that the city would not have to pay for upkeep of the park — that would be the county — and the only tangible benefit to them would be administrative fees from alcohol and food sales if such a concert is held there.
“It’s not a taxable piece of property,” said Jones. “... It’s not something that will have much effect on Burnside whatsoever, other than just publicity. People hear about Burnside and Lake Cumberland through all the promotions, maybe it makes people aware of Pulaski County who have not heard of us before.”
Speaking to the Commonwealth Journal this week, Kelley said that plans to increase the tourism in the park have been in the works for a long time and “we’re just kind of following through with the plans that were set” before he came into office.
“This is one part of a master plan,” he said. “... It’s just a part, but it’s a big part, and a very concerning part to citizens of Nancy.”
Kelley said that with the lake back up to its normal levels after the years of work on Wolf Creek Dam, “the timing is right to move forward with the park. We need to turn that into a profitable area because it’s a drain on the budget. We pay $130,000 a year just to maintain the park; we want to turn it into a profit center for the county.
“We want to benefit the county as a whole and be sensitive to the toes we’re stepping on,” he added. “It’s unintentional that we’re stepping on toes. We’re just trying to get the park to be a good tourist place.”