Water board OKs land swap

The Columbus Water Works Board gave its unanimous approval Monday to a land swap with the city that will secure the future of Columbus State University's Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center.

Columbus Columbus approved the deal last week. Though it gave approval at its monthly meeting, the Water Board will have to approve the contract when it is completed.

The city and the Water Works have agreed to an even exchange of 106 acres each of wetlands off South Lumpkin Road. The Water Works will now own the property that includes the so-called "Beaver Pond" immediately behind the learning center. That pond has become a laboratory for lessons on water ecology taught by learning center staff.

The city had planned to use the pond for dumping "inert" waste such as tree limbs and grass clippings. CSU representatives said that would have made the pond unsuitable for their use and could have led to the learning center being shut down.

In the deal, the city will swap two parcels of land — 76 acres south of the science center that include the Beaver Pond and 30 acres to the north that encompass another wetland — for 106 acres farther south that the Water Works owns. That land also includes a pond, a site that was set to be a marina.

Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington, who is a member of the five-person Water Board, praised Water Works President Billy Turner for putting the deal together.

"He stepped in and resolved this matter," Wetherington said. "I want to thank him for his vision and willingness to step in."

The deal was the right thing to do, Turner said.

"Columbus Water Works will own the property that CSU wants," he said. "We wanted to make sure we keep that program going. This will not affect us in any real way."

The deal made sense because part of the property the city received is the site of a long-talked about marina. If that marina is built, that property would need to be in city ownership, Turner said.